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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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The Case of Belarus: Russia’s Fear of Popular Revolutions

Emil Avdaliani

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For Russia, the crisis in Belarus caused by the August presidential election result is of a geopolitical nature. Moscow might not be openly stating its geopolitical calculus, but in its eyes, the Belarus problem resembles the uprisings in Ukraine, Moldova, Georgia, and Kyrgyzstan and represents a similar problem in the long run.

Whatever the arguments propounded by world analysts that protests in Belarus are not about geopolitics and more about popular grievances against President Alexander Lukashenko, the issue will ultimately transform into serious geopolitical game.

For Moscow, the Belarus problem has been about geopolitics from the very beginning, though it was only on August 27 of this year that Vladimir Putin announced the creation of a special “law enforcement reserve” for use in Belarus should the situation get “out of control.”

The Russians understand that an “Armenia-style” revolution in Belarus could theoretically take place, but it would open the country more to Europe and thereby create geopolitical dilemmas similar to those created in Ukraine before 2014. The Russians further grasp that in Ukraine, the situation was out of control even before the Maidan Revolution. Moscow’s influence was not sufficient to stop Ukraine’s gradual shift toward closer ties with the collective West.

For the Russian leadership, events in Belarus are a continuation of the “revolutionary” fervor that has been spreading across the former Soviet space since the early 2000s. What is troubling is whether or not the Russians see this process as an expression of the popular will that is largely independent of the West. Several indicators point to an ingrained belief within the Russian political elite that in fact the West has orchestrated the popular upheaval in Belarus.

Russian history might be of help here. Throughout the nineteenth century, the Russian Empire fought the spread of European revolutionary thought along and inside its borders. It built alliances to confront it and fought wars to forestall its progress. But in the end, the Bolshevik Revolution and the subsequent policies of the Communist Party were largely based on European thought, though many western ideas were changed or entirely refashioned.

Similar developments took place during the late Soviet period. By the 1980s, popular disapproval of the Soviet system had grown exponentially. A revolutionary fervor for independence ran amok in the Baltic states, Ukraine, and elsewhere. True reforms would have served as a cure, but half-hearted economic and social measures only deepened the crisis. Military power was used in a number of capitals of Soviet republics, but again only half-heartedly. Thus was the entire Soviet edifice brought down.

Modern Russian leadership should see that there is essentially no cure for popular grievances and mass movements along its borders. Russian history gives multiple examples of how military intervention against revolutionary fervor can bring immediate results but leave long-term prospects bleak. The defeat of revolutionary passions can only take place by minimizing those economic, social, and state-system problems that usually generate popular upheaval. This is the dilemma now facing modern Russia. The revolutions that occurred over the past 20 years, and the situation today in Belarus, all fit into this pattern.

For the moment, Lukashenko has won this round of strife with the protesters, and his rule is highly likely to continue. But what is equally certain is that the protests gave birth to a massive popular movement in a country that was once famous for the quiescence of its population.

Russia fears that eventually, this revolutionary tide will close in on Russian society. Lukashenko has stressed this idea, saying in an interview that mass disturbances will one day reach Moscow. Many rightly believed this was a ploy by Lukashenko to scare the Russians into supporting him—after all, Belarus is far smaller than Russia and much less important than Ukraine. Still, Lukashenko was right insofar as he pinpointed possible long-term problems Russia could face as it moves closer to 2036.

Much depends on the West as well. It faces a dilemma in which it ought to pursue a policy of vocal condemnation and perhaps even impose heavy sanctions—but from a balance of power perspective, moves like those would distance Minsk and push it closer to the Russian orbit. This dilemma of morality versus geopolitical calculus will haunt the West in the years to come.

Belarus exports 10.5 million tons of oil products per year, including about six million tons through the ports of the Baltic states to world markets and another 3–3.5 million tons to Ukraine. Redirecting flows from the Baltic ports to Russian ones has been discussed, but this option is less attractive to Minsk because of the longer distances involved. This comes at a time when the Baltic states imposed sanctions on high-ranking Belarussian officials and the EU is pondering serious measures.

With each such move from the West, Russia gets another opportunity. Russia has professed interest in encouraging Belarus to redirect its oil exports to Russian ports and has agreed to refinance a $1 billion debt to Russia.

A broader picture might help put the events in Belarus in context. In the South Caucasus, the Russians appear to have reached the limit of their influence. They more or less firmly control the overall geopolitical picture, but have nevertheless failed to derail Western resolve to compete in this region. In Central Asia, Russia has more secure positions, but the region in general is less important to the Kremlin than the western borderlands.

It is thus the western front—Belarus and Ukraine—that is a major theater for Moscow. Since 2015, many have believed that Syria is Russia’s top geopolitical theater, but this assumption is based simply on the intensity of the immediate processes that are transpiring in the Middle East. With or without Syria, Moscow’s global standing will not be fundamentally damaged. Belarus is a different matter entirely. Changes there, and by extension a potentially anti-Russian state, would constitute a direct threat to Moscow.

For Russia, Belarus is the last safe buffer zone on its western border. Ukraine is lost, as is Moldova, and the Baltic states have long been under NATO protection. Only Belarus serves as a bridge for Russia to move militarily into the heart of Europe. To lose it would be tantamount to a complete “encirclement” of Russia by the West, as argued by Russian politicians.

This geopolitical reality also means that Belarus is the country that will remain most susceptible to Russian geopolitical influence. No wonder Russia is pushing to station its air base on Belarussian soil, reinvigorate the Union state, and intensify Minsk’s economic dependence on Moscow. As was the case with Ukraine, the upheaval in Belarus is about regional geopolitics.

Author’s note: first published in besacenter.org

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The Navalny case: Violent maintenance of the Cold War

Slavisha Batko Milacic

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We are currently witnessing the rise of the Cold War, through the media, after the case “poisoning” of Alexei Navalny. The case was used to raise tensions between Moscow and the European Union to the maximum.

Apparently, Alexei Navalny became a victim of poisoning. Yet none of this we can know for sure. However, after the mentioned event, an avalanche of statements “about the orderers of poisoning” was initiated by prominent European and American representatives. Without any critical review, avalanches began to fall in the direction of Moscow and President Vladimir Putin as the main culprit.

One of the first countries from which the avalanche of accusations started was France. Francois Croquet, France’s ambassador for human rights, said: “We know who is to blame.” A very undiplomatic statement for a diplomat, which went beyond the official framework of communication. Francois Crockett joined the wave of accusations against Russia with his statements before any investigation.

French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said that in his opinion, “she (Russia) should have conducted an investigation, and when the culprits are found, they should be tried, to learn a lesson, because this is not the first case of poisoning.” ». The statement, very fierce, but outside the position held by the person in question. The statements of prominent diplomats call into question the international authority of France’s voice in the world.

These statements are aggressively joined by many politicians in Eastern Europe, especially those who feel revanchism towards Russia because of the Eastern Bloc, and further project of Russophobia, which are in line with the great energy battle over the construction of Nord Stream 2, which involved the case of Alexei Navalny.

What do we know so far about Navalny and his treatment. Navalny was initially treated in Russian hospitals, by doctors who did not detect any presence of poison, and then he was transferred to Germany, where it was determined that he was intentionally poisoned. His transport was organized by the “Cinema in the Name of Peace” organization, which was responsible for “rescuing” the group “PussyRiot”, which considered the act of imitation of abortion in the church to be an expression of artistic performance.

In the light of the situation with Russian opposition member Alexey Navalny admitted to the “Charite” hospital in Berlin with the symptoms of poisoning European and particularly German politicians and journalists opened yet another page of blatant Russophobia. Many of them push forward the theory of poisoning creating a classic image of the bloody Russian state trying to get rid of another enemy as in their vision it happened with Sergey Skripal. Even though no proofs are available and the statements of German doctors are scarce of details, this case is claimed to deepen the crisis in German-Russian relations. Some Bundestag members even call to cancel Nord Stream-2 as a punishment for the Russian government.

Despite the media hysteria encouraged by many politicians from the West, there are those who did not succumb to the first wave of Russophobia, and looked more soberly at the event related to Alexei Navalny and asked for additional evidence. For example the Vice President of the Flemish Parliament Filip Dewinter:

“Until now there is no real proof that Navalny was poisoned. I have the impression that countries like Germany are building up the pressure against Russia. The Navalny-issue is once again a perfect excuse to compromise the Russian authorities with violence and oppression against the ‘opposition’ … An objective and neutral investigation will tell“ stated Mr. Filip Dewinter.

His statements are not alone

Chairman of the “Prussian Society Berlin-Brandenburg” Volker Tschapke stated:

“Facing constant anti-Russian propaganda on different levels, I am not surprised with such an attitude, yet I can’t accept it. One of the key principles of any democratic society is the benefit of the doubt: nobody can be declared guilty until the proper investigation is conducted. Too bad, looks like this principle doesn’t work in Europe anymore. I’d like to wish Mr. Navalny to recover very soon and to call German politicians to stick to democratic values and stop pointing fingers at the Russian government without any substantial evidence base.“ said Mr. Tschapke.

Doubts about the case are also expressed by Member of the Parliament of Italy Paolo Grimoldi:

“I don’t trust the “institutional attack” to Navalny in Russia. He has many enemies, especially outside politics, in his life. In my opinion, it doesn’t look like an attempt to eliminate a political opponent. If any Russian top institutional level ever wanted to strike Navalny they would act more efficiently so let’s be serious and stop attacking Russia for nothing, stated Mr. Grimoldi.  

Divided statements regarding Navalny’s case tell us that, unlike in 2014, American power is declining and that European politicians do not make synergistic statements against Russia, but many of them view things with common sense and seek additional evidence for accusations against Russia. More and more Europeans are asking the questions: How is Russia threatening us? What will happen terribly for Europe if Nord Stream 2 is built? Most understand that the conflict in which America is pushing Europe with Russia has nothing to do with European interests, but with American ones.

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Alexei Navalny’s Case Matters to the Kremlin

Kester Kenn Klomegah

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The global call for an objective investigation that will inevitably establish facts into the alleged “poisoning” of opposition leader and a Russian citizen, Alexei Navalny, in August has started yielding results. President Vladimir Putin has decided, as the first step, to set up an independent committee to investigate the cruel and inhumane attempt on his life.

As globally known, Navalny is a Russian opposition politician and anti-corruption activist. He came to international prominence by organizing demonstrations and running for political office, advocating against corruption in Russia and contributing to public discussions on reforms that could help Putin’s government.

He fell ill on a domestic flight last month and was treated in a Siberian hospital, and later evacuated to Berlin. Germany has said that toxicology tests conducted by its armed forces found “unequivocal evidence” that Navalny had been poisoned with Novichok, the substance used in the 2018 attack Skripal family, on a former Russian double agent and his daughter in the English city of Salisbury.

Navalny’s case undoubtedly bears similarities to other poisoning incidents in the political history of Russia. There are many ordinary Russians, who believe that the world must know the truth about this brazen attempt on the life of a Russian opposition leader. In addition, it would clear the air, or instead to have an increasingly tainted image.

In an interview with the Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte made by Di Claudio Cerasa from an Italian media, Il Foglio, on September 10, 2020, focused on Alexei Navalny.

“Navalny? The German position coincides with the Italian one. Recovery? We will start with the Commission’s recommendations. Oppositions? My invitation to dialogue is always valid. School? There are reasons to be optimistic.” Interview with the Prime Minister, Giuseppe Conte, the headline reads and here translated into English.

The Head of the Government chooses to speak on an important issue that has nothing to do with economic dossiers or with the future of the government, but with a delicate issue of a diplomatic and geopolitical nature. The theme is this: but exactly, where does Italy stand on the Alexei Navalny case? Alexei Navalny, as you know, is one of the most prominent opponents of Russian President Vladimir Putin and was taken to Germany to be treated after being poisoned in Russia.

The German government said it had acquired “no doubt” evidence that Navalny was poisoned. Angela Merkel herself said she “condemned this attack in the most severe way” and has asked the Russian government “to urgently clarify because there are questions that only the Russian government can and must answer. The world is waiting for explanations.”

It was revealed that investigators found a new, more lethal variant of Novichok on Navalny’s hands and water bottle: for this reason, investigators believe that the perpetrators of the attack are Russian services authorized by the Kremlin. Up to now, we point out to Conte, the government has chosen to handle the issue with great caution – even too much. But in this conversation with Il Foglio, the prime minister puts aside a little diplomacy and agrees to answer a specific question, according to the published article.

Russia’s President Vladimir Putin has told Italy’s prime minister that he would set up a committee to investigate the poisoning of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, Giuseppe Conte quoted on as saying on September 10.

“President Putin has assured me (in a recent conversation) that Russia intends to clear up what has happened, and told me that he would set up a committee of inquiry and was ready to collaborate with the German authorities,” Italy’s Conte told the newspaper Il Foglio in the interview. “Collaboration is the best way to prevent this dramatic event from negatively affecting relations between the EU and Russia,” Conte added.

The Italian prime minister also highlighted the importance of Russian-EU cooperation in investigating the incident with Navalny. According to him, this cooperation could prevent a negative fallout for relations between Russia and the European Union. Like all European partners, Italy believes that it is necessary to fully clarify the details of this incident and find those behind it.

This step taken by the Kremlin could scale down escalating tensions between European Union members, especially, Germany and Russia. It tension relating Navalny threatens to cause lasting damage to diplomatic relations and the economies of both countries, and as a whole the European Union.

Over the ongoing situation, among others, relating to Navalny, European Union has threatened more sanctions against Russia. What is really at stake here also is the Nord Stream-2. This pipeline is expected to provide Europe with a sustainable gas supply while providing Russia with more direct access to the European gas market.

The Nord Stream-2 is a pipeline project slated to transport natural gas from eastern Russia to northern Germany, where it would link up with infrastructure that carries fuel to Western Europe. It would run 1,200 kilometers, mostly under the Baltic Sea along the existing Nord Stream pipeline – hence the name Nord Stream 2.

Commenting on the health condition of Alexey Navalny, State Duma Chairman, Viacheslav Volodin, expressed his gratitude to “the pilots who had immediately reacted to the extraordinary situation when the passenger had felt worse and took a decision to land in Omsk.”

He also added: “It is very good that Angela Merkel decided to help and provided assistance to Alexey Navalny. I would like to believe that she would have done the same if any other citizen of the Russian Federation, and not just a radical dissident, had got in such situation. It is important to note the professional actions of doctors, not only at the regional, but also at the federal level, who immediately began resuscitation and held consultations. It is important that all patients should be treated equally.”

“We need to comprehensively study what exactly happened. The State Duma Committee on Security will be instructed to analyze the details of the situation to find out if it had been an attempt of foreign states to cause harm to health of a Russian citizen to escalate tensions in Russia, as well as to prepare new allegations against our country,” said the Chairman of the State Duma.

On September 9, in connection with the demarche undertaken by the Group of Seven on the Alexei Navalny case, the Foreign Ministry has issued the following statement. Russia insists that Germany provide data on Alexei Navalny’s medical examination, including the results of the biochemical tests, as per the official request for legal assistance submitted by the Office of the Prosecutor General of the Russian Federation on August 27. Berlin has not been willing to respond to our repeated requests in a prompt and constructive manner.

“Without the above-mentioned information, the Russian law enforcement agencies are unable to engage all the necessary procedural mechanisms in order to establish the circumstances of the incident. Meanwhile, the frenzy that is being stirred up around this case is only growing,” according to the statement posted to its official website.

“We note that Russian doctors proposed establishing close dialogue with their German colleagues in order to discuss the available data on Alexei Navalny’s health that is held in Russia and in Germany. Unfortunately, the German side has been thwarting this process,” it further said.

The unconstructive approach by the German authorities is accompanied by groundless accusations against Russia. The massive misinformation campaign that has been unleashed clearly demonstrates that the primary objective pursued by its masterminds is to mobilize support for sanctions, rather than to care for Alexei Navalny’s health or establish the true reasons for his admission to hospital, it concluded.

Russia has different relations with individual member states of the European Union. But, all the members unite around policies either for or against Russia. Since 2014 annexation of Crimea, for example, the EU has collectively imposed sanctions initially involving visa bans and freeze of assets of 170 individuals and 44 entities involved in these operations. The EU sanctions have been extended and are in force until 2020.

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