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CIS at crossroads: the shift in geo-political dynamics

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2016 was out of the ordinary year. The ‘skittish’ Donald Trump got elected as the 45th President of the United States. Britain voted to make its historic exit from the European Union and for the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), the year was a political carnival as it completed 25 years of its existence. The last event indeed feels like a cold day in the hell especially when the grouping has been seen in a disparaging light ever since it kicked-off. Scores of critical remarks talking in length about its inefficacy, institutional failure and uninspiring progress has not only exposed its innate impotence but has also developed a sense of distrust towards it. However, it would be unjust to label the CIS as moribund without offering adequate explanation for the case. The article will delve into the strategic play of geo-politics extant during the formation of the CIS, how Russia and other CIS states perceive of the alliance in the present era and its subsequent contribution in making the organization irrelevant. 

Theorizing CIS

Why do states come together to form a regional organization at the expense of their most invaluable gem, national sovereignty? This question has been answered on multiple occasions through multifarious theories of international relations. However, strategic considerations played out an imperative role when the foundation of the CIS was laid. Prima facie, the ‘threat perception’ was the most conspicuous motivation that forced the states into action. This perception nonetheless was not uniform. For Russia, the western powers drive for democracy, NATO’s eastward proliferation and unruly CIS states in its ‘near abroad’ were a cause of alarm. For other CIS states, political and religious turmoil in their own lands and Russia’s amplified aspirations were deleterious to their national sovereignty and territorial integrity. Blown by the fate worse than death, Russia endeavored to encapsulate all the former Soviet states (except the three Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania) within its reach by employing unhesitant coercion towards the disobedient states that were reluctant to join the CIS. Russia in the CIS was a status-quo power, tenacious on preserving its Soviet pre-eminence. Adoption of such radical measures appeared as the only potent tool to secure its interests. For the other CIS states, the challenge to uphold their newly granted independence from external and internal threats with their frail military was an even more daunting task. Russia’s splendid force was the brightest star in the dark night, which could defend their territory in the event of a military attack. Moreover, Russia’s membership in the organization was an excellent tool to balance Russia’s ambitions to dominate the Greater Russia. CIS states were quick to realize the merit in these moves and acquiesced to be part of the CIS. 

The role of intricate interdependencies in the emergence of the CIS is even more paramount given the complex web of relationship that the former Soviet Republics shared. Constructivists emphasize on the notion of cognitive interdependence and cultural affinity as the raison d’être for the development of an organization. CIS is a vindication to the point. In the face of burning civil warfare and local threats, the political elites of many states thought it to be advantageous to bandwagon with regionally strong states and thereby bolster their chances of survival. This very act of bandwagoning is termed as ‘omnibalancing’ by its propounder Steven R. David. However, whether the regionally strong state will come to the rescue of the war-torn state depends upon multiple calculations. This line of thought holds credence in the case of Central Asian states that conjoined with Russia in the CIS. Geographical proximity can also be cited as a reasonable inducement to be a part of an organization. Central Asian states were closer to Russia than Ukraine, Moldova, Armenia, and Georgia. This idea held true in case of CIS.                                            

Operational dynamics of CIS

After a protracted period of debate on the character of CIS, the organization came into being on 8th December 1991. It was a kind of historical process that accompanied the civilized divorce of the Soviet Republics. CIS aided the newly independent states to reinvigorate their relationship that had been marred by the break-up. For the CIS states, the organization was a platform to embalm the most quintessential elements of the past cohabitation. In its blooming years, CIS approved more than 250 agreements. It was on the crest of a wave. Albeit, no sooner than later, suspicions and inhibitions cloaked in the garb of deep cultural sway, political and economic interdependencies, and the so-called obedience to the leader of the Greater Russia stood unveiled. Nature and purpose of the CIS began to be contested. Neither was the CIS a full-fledged state in the clichéd sense nor was it a subject of the international law. There was not any unified CIS foreign policy or a CIS national interest, largely owing to the diversification of dependencies and geo-political pluralism. Geo-political, geo-economic and ideological chasm made a headway between the two groups of states. There were pro-CIS states and CIS-skeptic states. The former mainly included the Russian Federation, Belarus, Armenia, and the Central Asian states barring Turkmenistan. The latter comprised of Azerbaijan, Ukraine, Moldova, Turkmenistan, and Georgia. Pro-CIS states wanted consolidation of common economic space by appropriate structures, while those skeptical of CIS were opposed to any form of institutionalization. Participation of post-Soviet states in the CIS meetings was irregular. Many of them complained the existential institutional upheaval. Trade relations could not endure the privileged luster that characterized the intense bonhomie and inter-linkages of the CIS states. In the aftermath of the 1998 crisis, trade ties were further derailed by payment arrears and the practice of states of keeping up with the barter arrangements. Nonetheless, the economic landscape was not something out of the blue. Inherited interdependence is not emblematic of shared inherited interest. Besides, the level of interdependence is not the same for all and sundry.

The charter of the CIS dictated the attainment of functional cooperation through consensus and this proved to be a stumbling block in the flourishing of the CIS. Many states chose not to ratify the agreements or approve of necessary reforms and policies such as elimination of value-added taxes on exports. Any venture or organization’s success is contingent upon the quantity and quality of time and resources that is invested into it. Faced with the mammoth task of nation building, coupled with meager resources and time, the CIS states steered all their energy to making their frontiers and economy as formidable as possible. Scant attention and probably low political will on part of the states pushed CIS toward the shambles. Furthermore, many of the ideals sacrosanct to all such as respecting state sovereignty, renouncing the use of force were walked over by some, if not all. Cognizant of the fact that the organization was unable to find a common ground to manage crisis in the post-Soviet space and serve the interest of the states, many of the CIS nations, primarily CIS skeptics formed their minilateral groupings such as GUAM (Georgia, Ukraine, Azerbaijan and Moldova), Central Asian Union, later renamed as Central Asian Cooperation Organization. In 1992, Azerbaijan and Central Asian states joined the Economic Cooperation Organization. In 2005, Ukraine, Moldova, and Georgia, together with Slovenia, Romania, and Macedonia, formed the Community of Democratic Choice. Some states began leaning towards the west and this ringed the alarm bells for Russia.

Future of CIS amid Preponderant Russia

Russia, which in the 1990’s was floundering to rebuild its identity on the vestiges of socialism made a ‘great leap’ to be the 11th largest economy in the world. With high growth rates and satisfactory public exchequer, the political elites were now able to direct their energy towards effectuating their global hegemonic aspirations. With politically deft leaders, Russia turned towards regional organizations to exert their influence. Right after his ascendance as the President of Russia, Putin pledged to improve Moscow’s relations with the CIS states. Russia’s foreign policy document of 2008 reaffirmed the fundamental importance of the CIS and identified the development of bilateral and multilateral cooperation with CIS member-states as the major thrust of Russia’s foreign policy. Nonetheless, it is not to suggest that Moscow’s political elites in the last years of the previous century turned a blind eye to regional cooperation mechanisms. Under Primakov, attempts were made to reform CIS in 1998. He also pronounced his plans of creating several CIS free-trade zones. Russia has invariably viewed CIS, in the words of Medvedev as a ‘sphere of privileged interest’.

The delightful memoirs of the soviet consolidation are very much alive in the hearts of the Russians. A desire to re-forge spiritual unity of the Soviet era with the CIS states is profound. However, the real impulse is to obtain unquestionable loyalty which is feigned under the label of ‘spiritual unity’. Russia’s mention of ‘near-abroad’ (Blizhnee-Zarubezhe) in political speeches is seen in a pejorative sense outside Russia, especially by the CIS states. Russia’s cold war mentality demands ultimate obedience whereas the CIS states have grown sterner when it comes to securing their national sovereignty and territorial integrity. Moscow’s rigidity, its preference to bilateralism over multilateralism and its threat to other CIS states have compelled states to branch out in terms of their international involvement. 

Russia’s obstinacy to secure its near-abroad from foreign powers, especially the West has resulted in many incursions into the post-soviet states, thereby violating the essential ideals of CIS. Georgia and Ukraine are a case in point. Georgia has been inclined towards the west and had sought NATO’s membership. Its exit from the CIS in 2006 fanned Russia’s anger and the latter-imposed a near-total embargo on Georgian wine and agricultural exports. As if it was not enough, Moscow encouraged pro-Russian secessionist groups in Abkhazia and South Ossetia, later resulting in the Russian-Georgian war in 2008. Ukraine and Russia have been locked in chronic disputes over pricing and tariff rates for long. Ukraine too believed that CIS has outlived its usefulness and therefore wanted to be a part of NATO and EU. However, Kiev’s desire was nipped in the bud when Russia annexed Crimea in 2014. Putin justified the intrusion as an act of defending ethnic Russians. Rather this was an act of embracing civilizational identity. It demonstrated that Russian military deployments in and near CIS countries are not just for show. Furthermore, there were others who had to bow to Russia’s arm-twisting. Moldova aimed to build ties with the west and in retaliation to it; Russian government stepped up its support for the secessionist movement in Transnistria. Reluctantly, Moldova had to give up its plan of forging improved ties with the west and remain a part of CIS. The examples cited above would lead one to infer the centrality of CIS in Russia’s foreign policy. However, it is not the case. What is significant to Russia is not CIS as an organization but CIS as a region. Russian government did not deploy troops or bully the leaders in Turkmenistan when it reduced its status from a full member to an associate member. This was mainly because Turkmenistan did not pose a serious challenge to Russia’s ambitions, thus it did not feel the need to get into a military scuffle. Color revolutions for Russia were the ‘menace of phantom’. Russian administration ostracized and intimidated all those countries that had undergone democratic change and accommodated autocratic leaders who stifled the drive of people for greater freedom. 

Power projection is one of the most overpowering instruments to solidify one’s hold over a region. Putin was wise to realize this, and his tenure witnessed the emergence of inter-governmental structures such as EEU (Eurasian Economic Union), SCO (Shanghai Cooperation Organization) and CSTO (Collective Security Treaty Organization). Undoubtedly, these structures of power made the battle of survival for CIS even more intense, it also made the fact crystal clear that regaining its superpower status and its lost glory dominated their idea of foreign policy above anything else.

Conclusion

CIS which was developed with the intent to mitigate the pains and sufferings of the collapse of the USSR now is itself reeling under legitimacy crisis. Amid failures and successes of power politics, CIS still hobbles on. At least, it provides a forum to discuss and manage some issues of ‘low politics. CIS states, other than Russia have a different construct of the organization. For some it is a forward-moving group, while for other, stagnant, or simply digressing from its actual path. Russia is concerned about raising its stature in the ‘near-abroad’ and CIS legitimates its presence. Furthermore, equality of states is a pre-requisite of any inter-governmental organization. This serves as an ideological hindrance to Russia’s rise as it never considered other states as its equal partners. Therefore, progress of CIS has impeded as Russia did not want to part away with its sovereignty and stature with other CIS states. Use of coercion by Russia may have helped it win some wars within its near- abroad, but such a triumph may not be fruitful in the longer run, when Russia would need to be aided by smaller states surrounding it. It also needs to realize that in the wake of geo-political pluralism, every state has its own priorities and diversification of interest is anything but obvious. It should get hold of the fact that it can no longer dominate the region as it once did. CIS has been a pawn in the geopolitical scuffle between states ever since its inception. Some call it a defunct organization, while others hope for its revival, what CIS will turn out to be depends upon how CIS states perceive the global politics and CIS’ utility in the times to come.

REFERENCES:

Kubicek, P. (2009). The Commonwealth of Independent States: An Example of Failed Regionalism? Review of International Studies,35, 237-256. Retrieved June 5, 2020, from www.jstor.org/stable/20542785

Imanaliev, M.(2016),”The Commonwealth of Independent States: Not Subject to Reform”, [Online: web] Accessed 2 June, 2020 URL: https://valdaiclub.com/a/highlights/commonwealth-of-independent-states-not-subject-to-reform/

Wilson, J.L,”The Russian Pursuit of Regional Hegemony”, [Online: web] Accessed 2 June, 2020 URL: https://risinngpowersproject.com/quarterly/russian-pursuit-regional-hegemony/

Sakwa,R.(2008),”Commonwealth,Community and Fragmentation”, in Richard Sakwa Russian Politics and Society, Routledge, Taylor and Francis Group.

Kremer, M. (2008),”Russian Policy Toward the Commonwealth of Independent states: Recent Trends and Future Prospects”, Problems of Post-Communism,vol. 55, no.6,November/December: 3-19

Zahoor Ahmad Dar is a researcher based in New Delhi. He has completed master’s in International Relations from the School of International Relations, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, email – zahoorjnu[at]gmail.com

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Two Opposite Views of Alexei Navalny

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The views of Alexei Navalny in Russia and in the United States are virtually opposites of each other.

In America, for example, on June 20th, the New York Times headlined “U.S. Preparing More Sanctions Against Russia, Sullivan Says”, and sub-headlined “The national security adviser raised the issue of more penalties in the poisoning of Aleksei A. Navalny days after President Biden met with President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia.” The Hill online bannered “Sullivan says US preparing more Russia sanctions over Navalny”, and the “Best” or most popular of the many hundreds of reader-comments was “Putin is too chickenshvt to face Navalny in an election”. In other words, the view is: Putin is aiming to kill Navalny because Navalny represents democracy and Putin is the dictator. That is the dominant view of Navalny not only in the United States but in its allied countries.

In Russia, however, here is the dominant view:

An RT news-report on 1 February 2021 headlined “Top Navalny aide asked alleged British spy for millions in funding, intelligence video released by Russia’s FSB claims to reveal”. Back in 2012, Russia’s equivalent of America’s FBI had a hidden camera in position filming, and recording, Navalny’s top aide trying to persuade a person he thought to be an MI6 (UK’s CIA) agent that MI6 should annually donate tens of millions of dollars to Navalny’s organization because doing this would provide billions of dollars of benefit to UK corporations if Navalny would then succeed and become Russia’s leader. 

Navalny is also known in Russia as a far-right ethnic supremacist. Here is a video that he posted to youtube on 19 September 2007, under the title of “НАРОД за легализацию оружия” meaning “PEOPLE for the legalization of weapons

He was saying there that all Russians should get guns in order to kill Muslims who are infesting Russia, which would be like swatting big flies or stamping on big cockroaches. Later, he decided that demagoguing against Russia’s “corruption” was far likelier to win him the backing of the U.S and its allies than demagoguing against Russia’s Muslims would. This was when U.S.-and-allied ‘news’-media began presenting him as the ‘democratic’ alternative to Vladimir Putin, who has always been vastly more favorably viewed by Russians than Navalny has been. On 5 September 2020, right before the latest Russian Presidential election, the internationally respected Levada polling organization in Russia reported that the top choice of Russians to lead the country was Putin at 56%, the second-from-top choice was the nationalist Zhirinovsky at 5%, and Alexey Navalny (shown there as Алексей Навальный), was the third-from-top choice, at 2%. In the 2018 Presidential election, Zhirinovsky polled at 13.7%, Grudinin polled at 12.0%, and Putin polled at 72.6%. The actual election-outcome was Putin 76.69%, Grudinin 11.7%, and Zhirinovsky 5.65%. There were many polls and Navalny was never any serious contender for Russia’s Presidency. The U.S. regime lies as it usually does (at least about international matters).

That’s what Russians know about Navalny. And, of course, it’s very different from what the publics in U.S.-and-allied countries know (or, at least, believe) about him.

Here is some recent propaganda that’s published by U.S.-and-allied regimes about Navalny: 

On May 22nd, Japan Times ran a Reuters report, “How Russia’s new gulag tries to break convicts like Alexei Navalny”.

On May 23rd, the Wall Street Journal headlined “Russia’s Navalny Fights to Stay in Public Eye in Putin Standoff”.

On May 4th, the Washington Post columnist Vladimir Kara-Murza headlined “Russia just took a big step back toward the Soviet Union”, and said: “Last week, for the first time since the Soviet era, the Kremlin officially classified opposition to its rule as a criminal offense. … Moscow prosecutors suspended the activities of the nationwide organization of Alexei Navalny, Vladimir Putin’s most prominent opponent. Navalny is currently incarcerated in a prison camp after surviving a state-sponsored assassination attempt last year.”

Navalny, though he actually is favorably viewed by only around 2% of Russians (as indicated in polls there), is widely publicized in U.S.-and-allied media as having instead the highest support by the Russian people of anyone who might challenge Vladimir Putin for Russia’s leadership. It’s a lie, and always has been. Other politicians have far higher polled support in Russia. For example, a Russian poll conducted in the days following Alexey Navalny’s alleged novichok poisoning showed the following level of support for him then, if a Russian election for President would be held at that time: Vladimir Putin 56%, Vladimir Zhirinkovsky 5%. Alexei Navalny 2%. In the 2018 Presidential election, Zhirinovsky polled at 13.7%, Grudinin polled at 12.0%, and Putin polled at 72.6%. The actual election-outcome was Putin 76.69%, Grudinin 11.7%, and Zhirinovsky 5.65%. There were many polls and Navalny was never any serious contender for Russia’s Presidency. The U.S. regime lies as it usually does (at least about international matters), such as about “Saddam’s WMD.”

To say that Navalny has enough public supporters for him to have become elected as Russia’s President is like alleging that the former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke had enough public supporters for him to have become elected as America’s President. That’s how much U.S.-and-allied ‘news’-media lie.

This news-report is submitted for publication to virtually all English-language newsmedia. A Web-search for its headline will show which ones have published it.

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Fragile Stabilisation of Confrontation

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Image source: kremlin.ru

Prospects for relations between Russia and the United States after the summit in Geneva

The Russia-US summit in Geneva will certainly not lead to a qualitative improvement in Russian-American relations and will not be able to initiate a process that would lead to a change of their confrontational nature within the next several years. This is impossible, due to the systemic nature of the confrontation between Russia and the United States. Overcoming this would require one or both sides to fundamentally change their approach to the international order and their place in it; a strong bipartisan anti-Russian consensus persists among the American political elite and establishment, despite an acute polarisation of the political system in the USA.

The task of the Geneva summit is different: to stabilise the Russian-American confrontation, to put an end to its unhealthy nature and uncontrollable course of recent years, and to form a model of relations in which the parties, despite considering each other as opponents and even enemies, nevertheless will try not to cross each other’s red lines. They also can develop selective cooperation on those issues where it is expedient for their national interests and where this cooperation does not require significant concessions. This model can be defined as controlled or disciplined confrontation.

The main reason that the summit in Geneva is taking place is that the further escalation of the Russian-American confrontation would otherwise undoubtedly lead to an even greater aggravation of the Ukrainian conflict, the situation around Belarus and a large-scale spiral of the arms race. This does not correspond to either Russian or American interests (as they are understood by the Biden administration).

For Russia, such an escalation would be fraught with the emergence of anti-Russian sanctions to a qualitatively new level, the need to increase military spending (today the Russian leadership is cutting defence spending and is proud of it), and an even greater deterioration in relations with European and Asian allies and partners of the United States (not only with the EU as a whole). It would also lead to the further strengthening of Russia’s asymmetric dependence on China, not to mention the humanitarian consequences of a new escalation of the war in eastern Ukraine and the increased risk of a direct military clash with the United States and NATO as a whole. Moscow, obviously, would like to avoid all this.

The interest of the Biden administration in stabilising the confrontation with Moscow is connected, firstly, with the Chinese factor. Since January this year, it became finally clear that the confrontation between Washington and Beijing, which was launched under Trump, is irreversible, systemic and existential for both sides, and therefore it is deeper and more long-term than the confrontation between the United States and Russia. Contrary to the hopes of many observers, there was no detente in US-China relations, and the Biden administration has made it clear that it regards China, and not Russia, as its main strategic rival and adversary.

At the same time, Washington is gradually understanding the limitations of its own resources and the need to concentrate on the Pacific sphere; a vivid example is the Biden administration’s desire to limit the obligations and presence of the United States in the Middle East. The White House also sees further rapprochement between Beijing and Moscow, which has increased in tandem with their opposition to the United States, as undesirable. As a result, the Biden administration seeks to stabilise the “Russian front” in order not to be distracted and to be able to throw as many resources as possible at the “Chinese front”.

Second, as the events of this spring have proved, the Biden administration, on the one hand, is not ready to invest serious material resources in containing Russia in the post-Soviet space, and even less enthusiastic about going to war with Russia because of such countries as Ukraine and Georgia. On the other hand, Washington would not like to witness the termination of their statehood.

The stabilisation of confrontation does not at all mean the resolution of the most acute conflicts and contradictions in Russian-American relations. The contradictions around Ukraine, Syria, Belarus, mutual allegations of interference in internal political affairs, Russia’s accusations of illegal hostile activities and even a “hybrid war” against the Western countries will most likely not be reduced following the summit. The prospect of a fundamental change in the foreign policy of Russia and the United States and serious compromises between them is still absent. Such compromises would be reasonably viewed by both sides as steps towards a strategic defeat, which for the time being is completely ruled out by both Moscow and Washington. In this regard, the stabilisation of the confrontation does not mean the resolution of these contradictions, but the absence of their further escalation.

At the same time, this stabilisation requires understanding, and, most importantly, respect for each other’s red lines. There is no doubt that these red lines will be discussed in Geneva. The ability of the parties to recognise and adhere to them is doubtful, especially in the longer term. For example, the United States will not only not give up open support for Russia’s domestic opposition in the near future, but will increase criticism of the Kremlin over internal political issues in the event of new protests. The parties will also not come to an agreement on what “Russian interference” in America’s internal political processes entail, and where the “red lines” are. Finally, there are great risks of destabilisation of many of the above crises “from below”, contrary to the wishes of Moscow or Washington. For example, the Ukrainian or Belarusian crises, which will inevitably entail a new round of confrontation and complicate interaction on other issues as well. Therefore, the stabilisation of confrontation, which is likely to follow the summit in Geneva, will be very fragile.

The second most important result of the summit is likely to be the launch of selective cooperation in bilateral and multilateral formats on issues where it is beneficial to both parties and does not require qualitative concessions from the parties. This, in turn, will mean a significant improvement in Russian-American relations compared to the state in which they have been for the past several years. Namely, building a policy towards each other based on national interests and national security considerations, as well as the ability to combine rivalry and cooperation where it is necessary and beneficial.

In recent years, this was impossible. Under Trump, the Russian factor became one of the main instruments of America’s internal political struggle, and US policy towards Russia was determined by domestic political considerations to a much greater extent than foreign policy itself. This ruled out any constructive interaction in principle. The White House was forced to constantly prove that it was not a “Kremlin puppet”, and Congress sought to weaken Trump’s ability to determine US foreign policy, making confrontation with Russia irreversible. Coupled with the Republicans’ traditional preference for maximum freedom in defence policy and the desire to put pressure on opponents with the threat of an arms race, this led to the fact that by the end of 2020 the Russian-American agenda virtually disappeared, and the mechanisms of relations (summits, diplomatic dialogue) collapsed. An illustration of the latter is the diplomatic war that has been going on for more than four years, the recall of ambassadors and the actual paralysis of consular relations.

Today the situation is gradually improving. Although Russia still remains a factor in the American internal political struggle (and will remain so as long as the polarisation of the US political system persists), the scale of the politicisation of the Russian factor has significantly decreased since the end of the Trump period. Biden’s foreign policy does not provoke resistance, at least from his own administration, bureaucracy and among Democrats, and in any case he cannot be accused of any sympathy for the Russian president. Moreover, the Biden administration does not view the arms race as a preferential instrument of confrontation with Russia and does not seek the complete destruction of the remnants of the arms control system. Finally, the Biden administration perceives transnational challenges and threats (climate change, the pandemic, proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, etc.) as significantly more important in the hierarchy of threats to national security, and prefers a multilateral approach to their solution.

All this creates the preconditions for selective cooperation with Russia on issues where both sides consider this cooperation necessary and beneficial for themselves.

First of all, the result of the Geneva summit may be the launch of broad Russian-American consultations on strategic stability: how to adapt the system to the qualitatively changed military-strategic landscape and what to do after the already-extended START-3 Treaty (the last traditional instrument for nuclear missile control) expires in 2026.

The parties are unlikely to come to a new “big” agreement in the near future on the limitation and even the further reduction of nuclear weapons to replace the START Treaty. Moreover, it is extremely inappropriate to start such negotiations: the positions of the parties differ so much that it is impossible to successfully complete such negotiations. It is unlikely that it will be possible for them to reach an agreement on the deployment of ground-based intermediate and shorter-range missiles in Europe. Nevertheless, a full-scale dialogue between the two nuclear superpowers on all aspects of strategic stability (which has long entailed more than nuclear weapons alone) is extremely expedient. It includes the discussion of how they understand the threat of a nuclear war amid new military-technological and geopolitical conditions, as well as the development of more stringent rules of conduct in the military-strategic sphere, mechanisms of conflict prevention and de-conflicting.

The second area of ​​selective cooperation between Russia and the United States after the Geneva summit is cybersecurity, which includes four main aspects: the fight against cybercrime, the use of ICT as a military tool, interference in each other’s internal affairs using the Internet, social networks, hacking, etc., and cyber espionage. On the first aspect, the intensification of Russian-American cooperation is most likely. The second aspect relates to the military security and strategic stability (with the help of cyber means it is possible to inflict damage comparable to the use of nuclear weapons, or to disarm or “blind” the enemy during a military crisis). Here it is important at least to determine the red lines (to agree on what infrastructure should not be subject to cyberattacks under any circumstances), develop the rules of the game and create de-conflicting mechanisms and “hot lines” in the event of a crisis. This will not be easy, but it is extremely necessary: ​​properly in the cyberspace that the risk of an unintentional military conflict with its further escalation up to a nuclear war is the highest. On the third and fourth aspects, reaching any agreements in the foreseeable future is extremely unlikely.

The third area of ​​cooperation is the intensification of interaction on the nuclear programmes of Iran and the DPRK, especially in the context of the Biden administration’s desire to restore, in one form or another, a multilateral deal on the Iranian nuclear programme and to abandon the practice of bilateral negotiations, especially summits with Pyongyang, used by Donald Trump.

The fourth area of ​​possible cooperation between Russia and the United States is environmental protection and the fight against climate change, which are positioned as one of the most important priorities of the Biden administration and are taking an increasingly important role in Russian foreign policy. Here the parties have something to talk about globally and locally. For example, the United States may suffer from the introduction of the EU carbon border adjustment mechanism (border adjustment carbon tax) within the framework of the European Green Deal, no less and even more than Russia. In the common interests of Moscow and Washington is the creation, as an alternative, of some kind of global mechanism aimed at reducing carbon emissions primarily where it is most beneficial for both countries.

However, the main object of possible cooperation between Moscow and Washington on environmental issues and climate change is the Arctic. In this region, Russia and the United States are part of a shared ‘neighbourhood’, where the rate of climate change is 3-4 times higher than the global average, and where the environmental, socio-economic and foreign policy consequences of this change are the most widespread. The fragile Arctic ecosystem, its infrastructure built on permafrost, and the traditional way of life of the indigenous peoples of the North are under threat of destruction. Moreover, the melting ice of the Arctic contributes to the overflow of the US-Russia and US-China confrontation – the perception of the region, as indicated in the 2019 Department of Defense Arctic Strategy, as “an avenue for great power competition and aggression”. As a result, the militarisation of the Arctic is increasing alongside the risk of disasters and military clashes, impeding the economic development of the region. Cooperation between Russia and the United States in protecting the environment in the Arctic is the only factor that can, if not slow down, then at least compensate for these negative trends, combating climate change amid even greater acceleration, addressing the melting permafrost (it is fraught with large-scale methane emissions) and adapting to new climatic conditions in the region.

Finally, the fifth area of ​​possible cooperation between Russia and the United States after the Geneva summit is a “truce” in the diplomatic war and the return of ambassadors to Washington and Moscow, respectively. This is perhaps the easiest and most feasible decision that can be expected from the summit and implemented in the short term.

A distinctive feature of this agenda, which is important for understanding the nature of the managed Russian-American confrontation, is that the beginning of a dialogue on these topics does not require any serious concessions from the parties. This is the most important prerequisite for this cooperation. Moreover, this cooperation should not be seen as a way to improve relations between Russia and the United States. This is generally not on the agenda in the foreseeable future. The meaning of cooperation is to understand Russian and American national interests, which in the indicated areas cannot be realised in other ways, even despite the fact that the parties generally regard each other as opponents.

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Modest results of the meeting in Geneva

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Presidents Joseph Biden and Vladimir Putin met in Geneva on Wednesday, June 16. Both separately noted that the talks went well. “There’s been no hostility,” Putin said. “On the contrary, our meeting took place in a constructive spirit.” Biden meanwhile declared “the tone of the entire meeting… was good. Positive.”

The spirit may have been constructive and the tone positive, but no major step forward was made to reset the chronically strained relations between Moscow and Washington. Although the meeting went as well as could be expected, major differences remain on a range of issues, including cyberattacks and human rights.

Putin rejected accusations Russia was involved in cyberattacks against U.S. institutions and declared that the U.S. government was the main offender in this area. On human rights he said that the U.S. supports opposition groups in Russia in order to weaken it, since Washington openly sees Russia as an adversary. Putin reiterated that Moscow did not see domestic politics as up for negotiation or discussion. He also said that pro-Trump demonstrators who stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6 were merely expressing reasonable political demands, for which they now faced punitive jail terms.

For his part Biden ensured the summit would be seen as the opposite of Donald Trump’s notably cordial meeting with Putin in Helsinki three years ago. He said that he had pressed the Russian leader on a range of issues, such as human rights, and that he would continue doing so. “No President of the United States could keep faith with the American people if they did not speak out to defend our democratic values, to stand up for the universal rights and fundamental freedoms that all men and women have, in our view,” Biden said he told Putin. “That’s just part of the DNA of our country… It’s about who we are.”

On the modest plus side the two leaders agreed that their ambassadors, who were recalled amid the rising tensions, should return to their posts in the near future. In addition, the U.S. and Russia would start “consultations” on cyber-related issues. As for the overall tone of the meeting, the Russian president paraphrased Leo Tolstoy by saying “there is no happiness in life only glimmers of it. Cherish them.”

“I think that in this situation, there can’t be any kind of family trust,” Putin concluded. “But I think we’ve seen some glimmers.”

Media commentary around the world reflected one common theme: at least it is reassuring that there is a dialogue. “The US-Russian summit in Geneva confirmed the low expectations for the meeting,” commented the Neue Zürcher Zeitung, Switzerland’s leading daily:

There were hardly any concrete agreements, but at least the American president is no longer inviting attack from his Russian counterpart. The chorus of commentators was pretty unanimous in the run-up to the summit from Moscow to Washington: There was no significant room for concessions or a change of strategy, either on the American or on the Russian side. The expectations therefore had to be set extremely low.

These low expectations were noted by the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung as well, which found it encouraging that the meeting lasted considerably longer than expected. The paper also thought it a hopeful sign that “the Russian President, who had already made the Pope and the British [sic!] Queen wait, arrived on time.”

“The summit flowed along conventional diplomatic lines:” wrote The Guardian; “a handshake, several hours of intensive talks and separate press conferences afterwards. The ghost of Helsinki was exorcised.” According to the British daily, the obvious and easy “deliverables” were achieved:

“One was to normalise the situation of Russia and America’s ambassadors…

“There will also be consultations between the US state department and the Russian foreign ministry on a range of issues including the Start III nuclear treaty, due to expire in 2024, and cybersecurity.”

The Russian media, unlike their Western counterparts, emphasize that one area of agreement in Geneva concerned the implementation of the Minsk agreements. The daily Rossiyskaya Gazeta noted Putin’s statement that Biden agreed with him that the Minsk agreements should be at the heart of the settlement in Ukraine. Quoting Peter Kuznick, professor of history at American University, the paper notes the summit was an important step in the right direction for both sides. No one expected a breakthrough, he said, but the two leaders respectfully and clearly indicated their interest in finding possible areas of common interest:

Both presidents understood each other’s ‘red lines’ and marked them more clearly. Their summaries after the meeting did not contradict, but rather emphasized and complemented each other. It seems to me that Putin was speaking to the whole world, while Biden spoke more to an audience within America, with an emphasis on human rights.

Considering the current state of bilateral relations, the Geneva summit is the maximum that could be expected. All that was deemed possible, but not obligatory, did happen, Professor Fyodor Lukyanov of Moscow’s School of Economics noted.

The conversation was businesslike and informative. This means that from the insane phase we’ve had in recent years, with normal relationship replaced by sheer hysteria, we are moving into a phase of more structured rivalry… The summit only outlined a way out of the impasse. Now we have to do all the work that is normally done before the summit. Since it was not done this time, solid steps will be prepared for some future milestone.

Prior to this meeting, Washington strengthened Russophobic sentiments in countries that follow American foreign policy. The peak of Russophobia was represented by the events in the Czech Republic, Bulgaria, but also by a number of other states which adjust it`s foreign policy to Washington’s foreign policy. Bearing in mind that at the moment relations between Washington and Moscow are not friendly, under American command, that kind of states accuse Russia constantly, including for events that happened years ago.

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