Almost a year ago, the RAND Corporation published the report “Deterring Russian Aggression in the Baltic States Through Resilience“. The title is self-explanatory—Russia is an aggressive state that has to be deterred.
In the very beginning, the authors state that the governments and citizens of Estonia, Latvia and Estonia are facing Russian propaganda and other nonmilitary activities on a daily basis. And that is just a part of a significant and insidious Russian campaign that designed to undermine trust in their institutions, foment ethnic and social tensions, and erode confidence in the collective defence commitments of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). The report mostly consists of practical steps on countering Russian military aggression, such as providing volunteers with weapons and equipment. It also elaborates possible scenarios of Russia invading the Baltic countries. The point of this review is to dig deeper and try to find out what is behind such an unpleasant prognosis. Spoiler: it might be Ukraine.
Episode I: Hybrid Menace
There is a brief explanation in the report trying to give Russia reasons to be that ominous. And who would have thought—the only reason mentioned in the report is the annexation of Crimea and supporting “the separatist insurgency in eastern Ukraine”. Authors state that concerns in the US and the EU grew that three Baltic States could become the next target for Russia, with the states being vulnerable to the Russian hybrid campaigns. So what exactly is a hybrid campaign?
The report often highlights that the information and media campaigns are specific parts of Russia’s hybrid war in the Baltic. Following the definition given in the report, “hybrid warfare is a complex of assertive policies, information operations, and covert and overt military and nonmilitary tactics (including cyber-attacks) by Russia and other countries to advance conflicting interests or territorial claims. It sometimes involves the limited application of force, just below thresholds that would trigger a conventional military response, and is often conducted in ways that create ambiguity about the parties involved, their goals, and validity of the legal and political claims at stake”. The most infamous example of using hybrid techniques against the Baltic, according to the report, was a decision of the Estonian Parliament to relocate a WWII memorial statue outside the city. The reasonable reaction of Russian publicity was called a “sophisticated government operation using controlled media”. It’s difficult to imagine the Mardasson Memorial in Belgium, for instance, being removed and there being no reaction in the US (or any other country).
The report points out that Russian minorities in Baltic countries rely on Russian government-funded media, which has a sophisticated strategy aimed at undermining “trust in institutions, fomenting ethnic and social tensions and eroding confidence in NATO collective defence and commitments”. Indeed, nowadays, the world’s media is experiencing a colossal lack of objectivity. The current media profitability model, mixing expert columns and news, filter bubbles, fake news and echo chambers all make the situation even more chaotic. Frankly speaking, the Russian media system isn’t far and away from the best. RT and Sputnik may sound like propaganda sometimes, and there were a lot of cases when it went overly aggressive and pushy. But the same works for the other side. Western media can also be biased when they cover Russian politics.
Media in the Baltics also isn’t an example of unbiased and objective journalism. Authors forget to mention that the stigma of “dark Russia” still prevails in most Baltic media. Nonetheless, that’s a problem that exists on both sides. There is no easy solution here and banning the media definitely isn’t the right way.
There are a few recommendations in the report that suggest measures to counter Russian information warfare activities, such as funding independent Russian-language broadcast stations in the Baltic and facilitating their access to “Western entertainment that appeals to Russophone communities” and promoting resistance-related cultural content (movies, games, books, etc.). Authors blame Russia for propaganda in aggressive information campaigns, but at the same time, they propose what are essentially equal measures. The key is not banning Russia media in the Baltics, but rather providing people with media literacy and critical thinking classes.
Speaking of the possible Ukraine scenario, the authors mention that such probability is seen by most Baltic officials and analysts as highly unlikely. Nevertheless, this scenario gets an extension in the report. By using propaganda campaigns, Moscow “prepares the environment for clandestine or conventional military attacks […]. Moscow might covertly orchestrate or exacerbate a domestic incident involving the Russophone community to provoke a crisis and use the ensuing turmoil as a pretext to intervene militarily to protect the Russian minority”. Indeed, the events in Ukraine in 2014 just brought distrust in the region. And this agenda is widely used by populist politicians who are eager to promote it to extend military support from NATO. But distrust doesn’t mean real war. Distrust can be managed through dialogue and negotiation. Nevertheless, these prospects weren’t considered by the authors.
Episode II. Russia Strikes Back
There is a section in the report dedicated to Russia’s reactions and countermeasures. The report stresses out that Russian military exercises must be addressed in “planning military operations against potential adversaries”. After all, it’s not only Russia who conducts military exercises in the Baltic Sea region. It should also be considered that Russia’s actions might be reactive rather than active. Authors probably forgot to mention it wasn’t Russia who came to NATO border, rather the opposite. It was NATO who expanded its military contingent three times since 2012.
Moreover, debates in Finland and Sweden on joining NATO and NATO military buildup make Russia more perceptive. No one side is responsible for the tension in the region. No one should be blamed. However, it should be noted that there are reasons why both sides act provocatively.
Here authors also reflect on the past, remembering Soviet times and coming to the conclusion that resilience is key to all problems. “Enhancing Baltic resilience efforts could frustrate Russian concepts designed to achieve rapid victory by breaking societies”. Indeed, it’s difficult to argue—making stable and resilient states is good for the stability in the region. But at what cost?
The report in the recommendations sector insists that the US should pursue additional actions to help the Baltic states. There is a point in the expert community that bringing one more power to the region will make it more complicated, unstable and confrontational. Undoubtedly no question why RAND proposes to bring the US to the Baltics, however in terms of making the region more stable, the recommendation remains doubtful.
In contrast to Atlantic Council reports, the RAND reports often have a more or less balanced point of view, it’s not black and white, or at least it should not be. Reading the report without any background on what’s happening in the world, one might think that there is a new World War where Russia invades everywhere in the world, using its “thoughtful” propaganda machine and capabilities for proxy wars.
Relations between Russia and the Baltic countries (as well as other countries in the Baltic Sea region) are very complex. And it has a lot of reasons: Russia’ border with NATO, which creates more tensions. The Baltic states had a grim Soviet past, and they traditionally take a more cautious approach in relations with Russia. Nevertheless, Russia needs good ties with the Baltic states in terms of re-establishing relationships with the EU; otherwise, it will continue to see Russia as a problem neighbour. Nonetheless, following the history of president meetings between Russia and the Baltic counties, one can see, there is a little interest in the Baltics. Therefore there is no comprehensive strategy towards the region, which could possibly be a game-changer for Russia and the Baltic states as well.
Anyway, the RAND report doesn’t analyze possible scenarios. It doesn’t explain the reasons for poor relations between both sides. It doesn’t bring any perspective except that people must get ready for war with sinister and dark Russia.
From our partner RIAC
Chechnya: The ethno political flashpoint plaguing a former Super power
Authors: Subhranil Ghosh & Sayantan Bandyopadhyay*
Chechnya is a minuscule North Caucasian landmass of around 17000 square kilometres which comprises a small fraction of Russia’s territory and, with about 850,000 people, about a quarter of Russia’s population. The land which was earlier known for its lush valleys and stony mountains has turned into a fore post of secessionist activities. With the Wahabi brand of radical Islam gaining a firm footing in the region, violent Islamic revolts are fairly commonplace. It must also be noted that this area is also marked by high unemployment, pervasive poverty, and rapid population growth as well as Moscow’s indifference to these issues, reflected in its low economic assistance. These factors have led to a high incidence of corruption, kidnappings and assassinations in the region, with crime as the only source of livelihood for countless people.
The local people were hostile towards the Russians much before the first Chechen war due to historical reasons along with the implementation of short-sighted policies over a period of time. Going back in history, North Caucasus was annexed by Peter the Great in 1722 in his campaign to incorporate all the Muslim territories into the Russian empire to create a huge territory for Russia. In 1908, there was an attempt made by the mountainous tribes of Dagestan and Chechnya for liberation and establish a theocratic Sovereign state, which was brutally suppressed by Tsarist forces. As a matter of fact, after the Bolshevik Revolution, Soviet authorities made little effort to integrate them into the allegedly communist mainstream society, and their sense of an ethno religious identity was kept intact. There were attempts in 1917, by North Caucasian mountainous leaders to proclaim Independence. Understandably, this was unacceptable to the new Communist regime and the region was swiftly incorporated into the Union of Soviet Socialistic Republics. The people were promised a large amount in the newly formed Chechen-Ingush Autonomous Soviet Socialistic Republic in 1934. During the Second World War, Chechen separatists allegedly collaborated with the German forces to defeat the Russians. After the battle of Stalingrad when the Wehrmacht was routed, Chechens were punished by deporting them to Kazakhstan in 1944. There were unconfirmed reports claiming that of the 618000 deportees, over 200,000 died as a result of this exercise. What needs to be understood is that Joseph Stalin forged a mini-empire out of the Soviet Union comprising of multi-ethnic nation-states with separatist tendencies. It was only in 1957 that the Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev while de-Stalinizing Soviet polity and society, allowed the deportees to return to their homeland by restoring the status of the Chechno-Ingush Republic. However, the sense of historical injustice and alienation lingered on in the collective memory and consciousness of the Chechen people.
“Not in pouring more troops into the Jungle, but in winning the hearts and minds of the people.” This is cited as a solution to crises related to terrorism and Insurgency by scholars. The Russians have been fighting a protracted war in Chechnya with no end in sight. The causes of the conflict beg analysis as well as why Chechnya is deemed as so important by the Russians.
The crisis in Chechnya is one of the biggest challenges that Post-Communist Russia has had to face. The roots of the crisis can be identified in the expansionist designs of Imperial Russia under the Romanovs. Indeed the North Caucasus region represented the bloodiest venue of Tsarist Imperialist expansion. From 1818 to 1856, the most brutal policies were pursued in order to crush the stiff resistance. Thousands of non-combatants were killed; the stratagem of scorched earth was implemented to starve the guerrillas into submission and people were deported en masse to Siberia, with many dying on the way. More than a million people fled or were expelled from their homelands, settling in Turkey and elsewhere in the Middle East.
Incidentally, the Communist Regime effectuated even harsher policies. The seeds of social animus vis-à-vis Moscow had been planted in the period of 1943-44, when entire nationalities were accused of collaborating with the Nazis, loaded on to trucks and were shipped off to labour camps in Central Asia. Some 206,000 deportees died on this journey; those not expelled died on the spot as a result of disease, starvation and exposure to the harsh Caucasian weather..
In so far as this bloody chapter in the history of Chechnya is concerned, the causes of the conflict are substantial. However, there are a number of other reasons which have aggravated the hostility in the post-cold war era. One of the fundamental catalysts is inherent in the very character of the Russian Federation. The geopolitical vision and national character of the Russian Federation possess distinctive continuities from those of Imperial Russia and that of the erstwhile Soviet Union. The most important continuity is the peculiar similarity between the time immediately preceding the 1917 revolution and the establishment of the Commonwealth of Independent States. This is the cause of the erosion of the legitimacy of authority in the eyes of the governed.
When this point is probed further it is revealed that centralized oppression meted out by Moscow from the days of Stalin has only increased. As a result, the separatists do not leave any stone unturned, when it comes to the negation of authority. To complicate this situation, Russia even now, is, in reality, a mini-empire, not a voluntary federation. The artificial multi-ethnic republics, which were fashioned through Soviet machinations, have experienced acute disenfranchisement and marginalization under centuries of corrupt and oppressive centralized rule. The Russian state has not been able to rectify its historical blunders and in fact, it goes on repeating them. While it has awarded some concessions to the restive minorities of Georgia, it displays little, if any, restraint in dealing with Chechen “terrorists.” The wave of bombings that took place in Russian cities in 1999 – a key casus belli for Russia – is attributed to Chechens, a debatable conclusion given the Chechen’s steadfast denials and more importantly, Moscow’s failure to produce a shred of evidence.
The grievances of the Chechens have found expression under the banner of Political Islam. Moscow has gauged, and quite rightly, that Political Islam will be the vocabulary of dissent and the Chechens will employ it to the fullest extent. The Islamic ideology is an important source of identity effectively mobilizing resistance against the non-Muslim rule in the Caucasus.
The Geo-economic and Geo-strategic significance of the North Caucasus region necessitates that Moscow holds on to this hornet’s nest. The Dagestan region commands 70% of Russia’s Caspian Sea coast and the region houses Russia’s only all-weather port on the Caspian. Thus the losses in fishing and commerce would be substantial. Even more critical is the oil pipeline carrying oil from Baku, Azerbaijan’s capital to global markets, which passes through Dagestan before crossing Chechnya into Russia’s Black Sea port of Novorossiysk. The ensuing loss, in case this pipeline did not operate optimally, to Moscow would amount to millions of dollars. Chechen instability has threatened to completely cut off this oil supply. As the South Caucasus represents Russia’s near-abroad, the political brass in Kremlin worries that upheaval in the North would accelerate the shift in trade from the traditional north-south axis to a new east-west axis, resulting in even closer links between the South Caucasus and the West. The respect that Russia commands in the region would almost certainly erode in the event of a loss of control over the North Caucasus. Since optics play an extremely important role in modern-day statecraft, Russian Weakness could trigger a reorientation of the foreign policies of Armenia, Georgia and Azerbaijan. Their equations with the west and Iran and Turkey could significantly jeopardize Russia’s strategic position in Eurasia.
However, the two biggest dangers to the Federation could be facilitated by the North Caucasus’ push for more leeway. This might lead to the loss of more non-Russian territories or to a debilitating reconfiguration for Moscow. Secondly, the proliferation of tensions from Chechnya to Dagestan could prompt roughly one million Russians to depart the region, putting massive economic pressures as Southern Russia would be overwhelmed by refugees. Finally, Moscow’s inability to protect ethnic Russians, even within their own country would further downgrade her legitimacy in the eyes of her citizens.
Now we come to the three explanations provided by Russia as to why it is militarily interfering in these regions. Firstly, Russia claims that this is a totally internal problem as Chechnya considered as an integral part of the Russian Federation. Hence, Russia has all the rights to control, suppress and determine the fate of any irredentist movement originating there. Secondly, the Russian constitution must be adhered to by the provinces of Dagestan and Chechnya too. Thirdly, Russian territory extends up to borders of the North Caucasus and therefore the Russian army is compelled to protect Chechnya’s borders.
Now the process of why “Chechens never forgive Blood” and how do these blood relations affect the relations between various people needs to be understood. This is evident in the persistence of three key phenomena, which are also interlocking, that of clan identity, honour and the custom of blood revenge. Chechnya is a clan society and there are roughly 150 teips or tribes. These Teips are subdivided into Gars (several branches) and patronymic families (Neykes). There is a particular issue associated with the concept of Blood Revenge, when someone from one’s Neykes (family) has been killed. These families are subdivided into related families spanning up to seven generations (Shchin-nakhs) which are subdivided into nuclear families (dozals). The gars and nekyes in which members still have personalized knowledge of one another have collective identities which play a huge role in preserving the harmony within these familial units which are linked patriarchically. Male honour is directly connected with three characteristics which are courage, honour and generosity. The male is supposed to safeguard the family’s women and provide for his close relatives and keeps them safe. Male honour is also linked to his ability to avenge any wrong committed to him, his clan or his clan’s women. The offences are in the nature of verbal humiliation, rape, physical injury or death. An offended male individual can avenge his blood feud by washing off the wrong done with the blood of the perpetrator or that of the perpetrator’s family. This blood feud is a strange vicious cycle as the offender transforms into offended after the first retaliation and the cycle of hostilities can last for decades if not centuries. If one cannot retaliate after the attack then the individual risks losing all honour, prestige of his and his tribe.
In this war of hatred, Russia has unleashed ruthless terror in which thousands of Chechens have died so the concept of Blood Revenge is now a national objective and in almost every family someone has died whose death needs to be avenged. Chechens fear death through humiliation they can’t avenge indicated by the responses even of more than 60% of the respondents in mid-1991 wanting to remain within USSR. But the Russian offensive operations carried out through so much brutality have removed any scope for the Chechens to be apolitical. Moreover, the inability of the avengers to locate the exact perpetrator of the crime and punish them as per customs of Blood Revenge has created a bigger problem as they have categorised the entire Russian army and the Russian state as their enemy. So anonymity has widened the spectrum of Revenge.
This blood Revenge has played a huge role in ensuring Insurgency has a steady supply of recruits. The more people are killed by indiscriminate violence by Russian troops, the more people get committed to eradicating the Russians in general. Most of the recruits were also from the mountains where this custom was widely prevalent. The Russian military has been compelled to send Russian paramilitary forces for counter-insurgency operations in Chechnya since the second Chechen war. The forces are mostly composed of Chechens leading to a process of Chechenization. This counterinsurgency force Kadyrovtsy was also driven by the same logic of Blood Revenge leading to a classic civil war-like situation in Chechnya. This helped Russia in two ways, as they don’t have to deploy ethnic Russians to fight wars and hence no protest by Russian mothers for killing their sons through conscription and secondly Chechens will be fighting a classic civil war with no end in sight. The intra Chechen hostilities tore through the social fabric of Chechnya, leading to a close in hostilities. This shows how the concept of Blood feud can be utilized for strategic expediency.
One thing is certain, Russian persistence with a military solution to a political problem has destabilized the situation to such extent, that there is no cause for cheer in the foreseeable future. Russian economic recovery, which was absolutely crucial to the health of the Federation, has been stalled by this most expensive conflict, both in terms of human and material costs. Even more importantly, the Russian apathy towards accommodation of different ethnic identities is breathing new life into the conflict. At this rate, the old lessons of History have not been internalized by the Russian administration. Russian withdrawals of troops and the peace agreement are viewed as tantamount to recognition of Chechnya’s independence and internal sovereignty, de facto if not de jure, and there is a clear expectation that the postponement of the final decision on status will allow the Russian side to gradually accommodate itself to the reality of the situation. The political brass of the republic has completely refused to participate in the political institutions of the Russian Federation. The republic has also sought to expand its regional and international linkages in order to garner recognition from the International community at large. Genuine independence, and the hope for membership in international organizations, is, however, dependent on formal recognition by the international community, and are unlikely to be forthcoming absent Russian acquiescence. This is, of course, is in the context of the Treaty on Peace and the Principles of Mutual Relations between the Russian Federation and the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria, signed in May 1997, acknowledged the “centuries-long antagonism” between the two sides, and committed both to the renunciation of force “forever” in resolving disputed issues and to building relations in accordance with “generally recognized principles and norms of international law,” a formula that each party could interpret in its own way.” The document was intended to serve as the basis for additional treaties and agreements on the whole complex of mutual relations. Two intergovernmental agreements signed at the same time sought to lay the foundation for future economic cooperation and, as the Chechen side hoped, for addressing the economic reconstruction of Chechnya. As of the completion of this manuscript, however, no significant progress has been made on resolving the underlying conflict and continuing intra-elite struggles in both capitals make the prospects for reconciliation dim. While the Russian State has emerged victorious out of the second Chechen war, there are no efforts at mitigating hostilities and the region has been effectively turned into a fourth world colony. Such an approach is imprudent as the region is still volatile and conflagrations may snowball into another crisis. Moscow has to adopt a more lenient stance if the peace is to be sustained, otherwise this problem can have larger geopolitical ramifications for the region at large.
* Sayantan Bandyopadhyay, is a 2nd year post-graduate student pursuing Political Science with specialization in International Relations at the Department of International Relations, Jadavpur University. His areas of interest are primarily India’s foreign policy, India’s defense Policy, Public Administration, International Organizations and the nuances of India’s domestic political and societal discourse with special emphasis on Castes and Reservations. He was a member of the Youth Parliament delegation from Jadavpur University which became the national champions in 12th National Youth Parliament competition organized by the Ministry of Parliamentary Affairs, GOI. He has also been a delegate to the prestigious Policy Bootcamp 2019 by Vision India Foundation. Twitter Id-Sayantanb21
Coronavirus Pandemic Worries BRICS
On April 28, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov held an extraordinary meeting of BRICS Ministers of Foreign Affairs (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) via videoconference as part of important events planned this year after Russia took over the chair-ship from Brazil.
The BRICS Foreign Affairs Ministers who took part in the meeting included Dr. Subrahmanyam Jaishankar represented India; Ernesto Araújo Foreign Affairs Minister of Brazil; Wang Yi, State Councilor and Foreign Minister of China and Ms. Grace Naledi Pandor, Minister of International Relations and Cooperation of the Republic of South Africa.
The ministers reviewed the impact of the current global crisis provoked by the outbreak of COVID-19 on the system of international relations and agreed that there is no alternative to using both bilateral and multilateral forms of cooperation, unite behind efforts without any hidden agenda, in finding a collective response to the challenges and threats posed by the coronavirus pandemic.
The meeting exchanged in-depth views on possible joint measures on how to contain COVID-19 and deal with the financial, trade, economic and social consequences of the pandemic. They discussed important issues related to developing a five-way cooperation, including the calendar of events for Russia’s BRICS Chairmanship in 2020.
“We believe that it should become a very good reinforcement for our countries’ economies when they’re coming out of the crisis stage and resume economic operations,” Lavrov noted after the meeting.
The international community should unite to ensure the most positive outcome of efforts in tackling the crisis, but acknowledged that such efforts are being undermined by sanctions imposed on some countries, and suggested that the sanctions should be lifted or removed.
In the opening speech, Lavrov emphasized the priority in dealing with the COVID-19 outbreak, protect people’s lives and health as well as the global economy. “The need to uphold multilateral principles and rely on international law in formulating solutions to current cross-border threats is an urgent challenge. We are convinced that it is very important to strengthen the solidarity of BRICS countries,” he said.
The BRICS heads of state adopted a decision a couple of years ago to expand cooperation in the fight against infections and the joint production and use of vaccines, according to Lavrov, and suggested “BRICS has to accelerate the implementation of this initiative.”
Cooperation on countering infectious diseases has long been a priority for BRICS. For instance, the final declaration of the 2015 BRICS summit in Ufa, Russia, contains instructions by the leaders to jointly work on managing the risk of disease outbreaks, including the current new coronavirus.
“We are concerned about growing and diversifying global threats posed by communicable and non-communicable diseases. They have a negative impact on economic and social development, especially in developing and in the least developed countries,” the 2015 BRICS declaration adopted in Ufa, Russia. It was the Seventh BRICS Summit, held under the theme “BRICS Partnership – a Powerful Factor of Global Development” under the chair-ship of Russia.
That declaration further stated: “In this context, we commend the efforts made by the BRICS countries to contribute to enhanced international cooperation to support the efforts of countries to achieve their health goals, including the implementation of universal and equitable access to health services, and ensure affordable, good-quality service delivery while taking into account different national circumstances, policies, priorities and capabilities.”
Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi echoed Sergey Lavrov’s call for unity and solidarity. In an official statement released by the ministry, Wang said that the BRICS should “stand firm by multilateralism, by the UN-centered international system” and “champion the approach of consultation and cooperation.”
“Through joint efforts, we will safeguard the legitimate rights and interests and space for development not just for ourselves but also for all other emerging market and developing countries,” Wang Yi said.
With its rapid spread in many parts of the world, COVID-19 has put lives and health of people around the world under grave threat, seriously disrupted the global economy, and posed severe challenges to BRICS, the minister said, while acknowledging further that “as representatives of major emerging countries with global influence, BRICS countries must act in the interest of the well-being of humankind, and stand by justice and equity.”
Wang Yi, however, proposed the following:
First, uphold multilateralism and improve global governance. The sudden onslaught of COVID-19 reminds again that BRICS interests are, closely entwined and the future. A challenge that respects no border and makes no distinction of ethnicity has only made global governance more important, not less, building a community with a shared future for mankind.
China’s strategic assessment is that COVID-19 will not change the theme of the times which remains peace and development; it will not cut short the historical trend toward multi-polarity and globalization, and still less will it deter humankind from its firm pursuit of civilization and progress.
In a time of crisis, BRICS must stand firm by multilateralism, by the UN-centered international system, and by the purposes and principles of the UN Charter. BRICS needs to sustain coordination in the UN, the G20 and other multilateral frameworks to keep up secure and smooth functioning of global industrial and supply chains, and defend the multilateral trading regime with the WTO as the cornerstone.
BRICS should continue to work for making development the centerpiece of the global macro policy agenda, and expedite the delivery of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
Second, BRICS should come together in the spirit of partnership to combat COVID-19. Under the personal leadership and direction of President Xi Jinping, the Chinese government and people have fought a people’s war against COVID-19. China has acted according to the principle of shoring up confidence, strengthening unity, ensuring science-based control and taking targeted measures.
As the virus hits more countries around the world, China is doing everything it can to help those in need. In spite of substantial demand at home and growing pressures to meet foreign orders, China has provided a large amount of medical supplies to fellow BRICS countries, and facilitated the purchase of such supplies through commercial channels.
Going forward, China is ready to step up the sharing of information and experience with BRICS countries and conduct joint research and development of drugs and vaccines, respecting each other’s sovereignty and national conditions.
Third, BRICS should uphold unity and coordination to forge a powerful synergy. President Xi Jinping stated that the virus is a common enemy of humanity and can be defeated. Living in a global village, no one could stay safe when others’ houses catch fire.
Likewise, in fighting COVID-19, victory can only be secured when the virus is brought under control in all countries. China has been a strong force behind international anti-epidemic cooperation because its own experience has made it fully empathetic with other peoples suffering from similar difficulties.
As countries battle the disease in light of their own situations, China called for mutual understanding and respect for these efforts, and sharing and learning from each other’s experiences. The global community should never be distracted in its collaborative response by finger-pointing or the blame game, allow new tensions and divisions to be created as a result of politicization or stigmatization.
In view of the weaknesses and inadequacies exposed during this crisis, BRICS needs to enhance global public health governance, make it a higher priority on the international agenda, and work together to build a community of health for all.
Fourth, China will work with all BRICS members to support Russia’s Chairmanship. China also supports Russia’s initiative to formulate a Strategy for BRICS Economic Partnership 2025.
On his part, Indian Foreign Affairs Minister Dr. Subrahmanyam Jaishankar noted that BRICS, which brings together almost 42 percent of global population, with impressive growth, investment and trade share, has an important role to play in shaping the global economic and political architecture.
He highlighted the initiatives and various decisive steps taken early by India. For example, India is providing pharma assistance to nearly 85 countries, including many countries in Africa, on a grant basis, to support their response to the pandemic. This has been widely welcomed.
He further emphasized that the pandemic is not only posing a great risk to the health and well-being of humanity but is also severely impacting global economy and output by disruption of global trade and supply chains. Economic activity across sectors has been negatively impacted leading to loss of jobs and livelihoods.
He emphasized the need to provide support to businesses, especially small and medium scale enterprises, and the efficacy of traditional medicine systems to strengthen immunity be recognized and that BRICS should support these efforts.
Jaishankar emphasized the current challenge that underlines the need for reform of multilateral systems and that a reformed multilateralism was the way forward. He referred to the centrality of development and growth in the global agenda. India reaffirmed its support for Russian BRICS Chair-ship in 2020 and under the theme “BRICS Partnership for Global Stability, Shared Security and Innovative Growth.”
The BRICS member countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) collectively represent about 26% of the world’s geographical area and are home to 3.6 billion people, about 42% of the world’s population and with a combined nominal GDP of $16.6 trillion.
Putin’s Policy on Coronavirus
Until now, I had respected the independent IntelliNews site, and also RT, for their reporting on important geostrategic issues, but their reporting on May 12th regarding Russian leader Vladimir Putin’s coronavirus-19 policies made some allegations which falsely suggest a similarity between his policies and the American President’s policies on coronavrus-19.
The key document is dated May 11th and is titled “Meeting on sanitary and epidemiological situation”. Unfortunately, it was not linked to either in the RT report or in the IntelliNews report.
On May 11th, RT headlined “Paid holidays end May 12, Russia to start gradually easing coronavirus quarantine measures – Putin” and reported that, “‘Starting from tomorrow, May 12, the joint non-working period for the whole country and for all the sectors of its economy ends,’ Putin said during a televised speech on Monday. … The conclusion of the ‘holiday’ period allows Russia’s regional authorities to begin lifting Covid-related restrictions. This process will not be fast, Putin said, and all anti-coronavirus precautionary measures will remain in place. Any mass gatherings will remain banned across the country as well.” Nothing was said in that report regarding whether Putin prioritizes the public’s health or instead the nation’s economy. The general impression was that he is more concerned about protecting the economy.
On May 11th, the IntelliNews site bannered “Putin eases Russia’s coronavirus lockdown restrictions”, and sub-headed “Putin has eased the lockdown restrictions a little, but the change has more to do with restarting Russia’s stalled economy than with the population’s frustration at being kept indoors.” This report noted that “Companies will increasingly have to choose between sacking workers or going bust. The big employers have been the focus of the Kremlin’s economic aid programmes, but the SMEs [Small and Medium-sized Enterprises] have largely fallen through the cracks.” Nothing was cited there to back up that assertion regarding his being more concerned to protect large than small firms.
Here are some highlights of the actual document, starting with its opening:
Vladimir Putin held a meeting, via videoconference, on the sanitary and epidemiological situation and new measures to support the country’s population and the national economy.
May 11, 2020
You are aware of my position, it hasn’t changed. The key priority for us is people’s lives, health and safety.
The period of non-working days announced earlier expires today, May 11. Overall, it lasted for more than six weeks, beginning March 30.
This extraordinary measure enabled us to slow the epidemic, giving us the time we needed to substantially improve readiness of the entire healthcare system in case the epidemiological situation took a turn for the worse.
The number of specialised hospital beds equipped for treating severe cases was increased from 29,000 to 130,000, and we have built up equipment and supplies reserves, including a reserve capacity of ventilators, which has critical importance for us. Thank God, of course, that so far we have had to use only a small fraction of this stand-by capacity.
What matters the most is that every region is ready and has everything it needs to help people that might suffer from severe complications, and offer them specialised medical services, including intensive care. Let me emphasise that almost everyone who needs this care is receiving it.
Another very important thing is that the doctors now know much more about this disease than at the outset of the epidemic. They have gained first-hand experience as well as learned best practices from their foreign colleagues. Newly developed treatment methods rely on effective medicines, and we have been expanding their production.
Foreign experience showed that it was the failure to make the necessary preparations as well as an overwhelmed healthcare system that were the main causes of a high mortality rate, making it impossible to save those who could be saved. Let me reiterate that we are now able to provide this kind of assistance. It would not be an exaggeration to say that measures taken in advance helped us save many thousands of lives. …
Social workers are now carrying an extra workload and higher risks. Therefore, I think we need to introduce extra pay on a national level for the three months between April 15 and July 15. I would like to make it clear that the pay that was already allocated for April will reach people regardless.
Doctors at social institutions will receive an extra 40,000 rubles for a two-week shift. Those who are working directly with coronavirus patients will receive 60,000 rubles.
Social workers, teachers, mid-level medical and administrative staff will receive 25,000 rubles and if they are dealing with infected patients – 35,000 rubles. Junior medical staff will receive 15,000 and 20,000 rubles, respectively. Maintenance staff will receive 10,000 and 15,000 rubles, respectively. …
Of course, like before, all government bodies and municipal authorities will continue working, as well as facilities with a continuous production cycle, medical institutions, pharmacies, financial bodies, grocery stores and stores selling essential products.
Additionally, starting May 12, wherever possible, it is necessary to create conditions for resuming the operations of backbone industries, which include construction, industrial production, agriculture, communications, energy production and extraction of mineral resources.
These industries involve a significant number of workers and working there means the income and wellbeing of their families. It is also important that these operations do not involve direct contact with consumers – so it is possible to resume operation with low risk. Naturally, all sanitary regulations must be complied with. …
First of all, families with children. They always have a lot of things to take care of, but now if a family loses its income it is very difficult. All the more so if one of the parents, or worse, both of them, have lost their jobs. Unfortunately, this is happening in some cases.
As you know additional benefits are being specified for families entitled to maternity capital in the amount of 5,000 rubles a month per child under 3. The family will be getting this monthly amount for three months from April through June.
In addition, families with parents who lost their jobs are entitled to 3,000 rubles a month for each underage child. These benefits will also be paid for three months.
Next. We have made a decision that families with an income per person below the subsistence minimum can apply for benefits for children aged 3 to 7, inclusive, starting June 1 rather than July 1 as originally specified.
I draw you attention to the fact that these benefits are calculated, as I said in the Address, from the beginning of the year. Thus, a family who applies in June will get all the benefit it is entitled to in the first half of the year. On average (let me stress – on average) this can add up to 33,000 rubles per child, and a family like this will be getting regular benefit payments every month. The national average is 5,500 rubles per child per month.
However, I believe that this not really enough these days. Many more families with children need direct support from the state. The favourable macroeconomic conditions we have created in recent years for the progress of the economy, the rehabilitation of the banking and financial system in the country and the reserves we have accumulated allow us to take more decisions on supporting people.
In this connection I suggest, first of all, that the minimum child allowance be increased from 3,375 rubles to 6,751 rubles [per month]. This benefit is to be paid to non-working citizens, including students. As a rule, these are young parents and young mothers. It is important that we support them.
Second, I mentioned additional payments for children under 3 years old in the families that are eligible for maternity capital. But many families are not eligible because their children were born before January 1, 2020 when the new parameters for receiving maternity capital, including for the first child, were approved.
In light of this, I suggest that 5,000-ruble monthly payments be approved for such families. Moreover, they should receive this amount not only in May and June, but also for April, that is, retroactively. In this way, all families in Russia with children under 3 years old will receive 5,000 rubles a month.
And last, one more child support measure: from June 1, families will receive a one-off payment of 10,000 rubles per child aged between 3 and 16 years.
I would like to point out that this is not the time for people to waste a lot of personal time collecting all kinds of certificates and statements. Therefore, we have taken the only fair decision, as I see it, that no formal criteria are adopted for this one-off payment. The only condition is that assistance must be provided to everyone who needs it.
As I said, every family in Russia with children between 3 and 15 years inclusively will be able to submit a request for this one-off assistance starting tomorrow, online via the Gosuslgi [Public Services] Portal or through the Pension Fund, and receive 10,000 rubles per child starting June 1.
Overall, in accordance with the decisions we took today and our previous decisions, assistance will be provided to 27 million Russian children, from babies to schoolchildren. I believe that this is what state priorities should be like, especially now that we must above all take care of our elderly people and support families with children.
As you know, we hold meetings with the participation of the business community on supporting and developing key economic sectors almost every week. Moving forward, we will definitely keep this process in place for devising targeted solutions and fine-tuning earlier decisions. We will discuss developments in agriculture, textiles, communications and the IT sector.
However today I wanted to draw your attention to one urgent and system-wide problem. According to the latest official figures, the number of unemployed people in Russia has reached 1.4 million, having doubled compared to early April.
This is quite a challenging situation that requires comprehensive efforts to stabilise employment and support those who have lost their jobs. I ask the Government to draft resolutions to this effect. We will discuss them at a separate meeting that will take place before the end of May. …
Consequently, there is no question that measures to support the economy, and primarily those designed to keep companies on a sustainable footing, will have to be carried out. We need to maintain jobs, professional teams, business infrastructure and capacities so as to avoid any further sharp fall in employment, while enabling business owners to restore their teams, expand operations and get the economy back on track.
Let me remind you that we have offered direct government subsidies to small and medium-sized businesses, as well as socially-oriented NGOs in the affected sectors, so that they can pay their employees salaries for April and May. The key requirement for receiving this support is to keep at least 90 percent of their employees on the payroll compared to April 1. This measure could potentially cover 4 million workers.
At the same time businesses need to understand their prospects; they need to see the horizon of the unfolding situation so they can make decisions, as I said, with a planning horizon rather than just for the next month or two.
So, we have a number of other measures.
First. I suggest that a special employment support loan programme be launched effective June 1. All businesses in the affected industries as well as socially-oriented NGOs should be eligible for it. This measure could potentially sustain 7 million jobs.
Loan volumes will be calculated based on a formula of one minimum wage per employee per month for a period of six months. The loan maturity date will be April 1, 2021.
It is crucial that these loans are accessible to businesses while banks should be interested in working with this programme. The final interest rate for the borrower will be a preferential 2 percent rate. Everything above this will be subsidised by the state. The interest will not need to be paid monthly, it will be compounded. In addition, 85 percent of the loan will be guaranteed by the state.
And the key is that if the company keeps 90 or more percent of its current jobs, after the loan matures, it will be completely written off as will the interest on it. These costs will be covered by the state.
If the number of jobs is kept to least at 80 percent, half of the loan and compounded interest will be written off.
Such loan could be used with some flexibly for paying wages and, for example, to refinance earlier no-interest, so-called “wage loan.” As you know, we are already using this employment support tool.
However, even with all the freedom to manoeuvre for businesses and other organisations, I must instruct the Government to ensure control over the basic premise: businesses must spend the funds primarily to pay wages. Any schemes like “paper jobs” or jobs with wages below minimum wage are to be excluded, totally excluded. I ask you to strictly monitor this.
And of course, along with the loan, businesses will have to co-finance wages with their own funds.
What I want to stress here is that we have supported and will continue to support businesses, but those who care about their employees are the priority. Once again, the point of providing government support is to motivate businesses to retain jobs and maintain wages.
Second, affected industries have already been granted tax and social insurance contribution deferrals for six months and will be able to pay it back in instalments over the course of a year – as business representatives asked me to do at one of the meetings. However, to simply postpone tax payments is apparently not enough right now.
Therefore, I propose cancelling these payments for the second quarter of this year, except for VAT. This measure will apply to private entrepreneurs, small and medium-sized businesses in the listed industries and socially-oriented NGOs.
Once again, to be clear, in this case, taxes and social contributions for the second quarter will not just be deferred, they will be cancelled – for April, May and June, the months that businesses find themselves in a difficult situation and are still experiencing hardships. More than 1.5 million companies will be able to benefit from this measure.
Third, last year, in four regions – Moscow, Tatarstan, the Moscow Region and the Kaluga Region – self-employed citizens, including those providing transport services, rental property owners, tutors, babysitters, etc., got an opportunity to do their businesses officially, rather than in a so-called grey area and pay income tax at a reduced rate of 4 or 6 percent. Some 340,000 people used this opportunity last year.
These people trusted the government and believed the guarantees for secure and civilised work. So, I think this aspiration should be supported and even encouraged. I propose tax rebates for taxes paid by the self-employed for the 2019 fiscal year in full.
The fourth proposal is related. Currently, people can register as self-employed in 23 regions. The number of officially registered self-employed workers is now over 650,000. I propose providing all self-employed citizens with a tax credit in the amount of one minimum wage they could use to pay taxes this year, thus retaining their own income.
Fifth, we also need to lower the fiscal burden on the self-employed in the most heavily affected sectors. I suggest that this year they be given a tax deduction in the amount of one minimum wage from their insurance payments, which will come as additional support to them at this difficult time.
And finally, the sixth measure. Government agencies providing microfinancing support for the self-employed, family enterprises and small businesses have been established and are working efficiently in all Russian regions.
I suggest that additional capitalisation be provided to small but efficient regional development institutions without delay and that 12 billion rubles be allocated for this purpose. These funds have been earmarked for the national project on small and medium-sized businesses for the next few years. I believe that this financial resource must be used now, in 2020. …
Clearly, Putin’s approach is socialistic, not at all capitalistic, as Trump’s is in America.
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