While the Russian Federation is actively pursuing the cultivation of its Soft Power, the results, in the present cynical and confusing international environment, appear to be mixed. For instance, in a 2019 paper, an Israeli analyst argued that “Russian soft power efforts in the Middle East are bearing fruit, as many young Arabs now view Moscow as an ally and the US as unreliable .” But the “SOFT POWER 30” Index, for 2019, places Russia 30th among 30 states, below Turkey’s 29th score. Admittedly, these are quite “Russophobic” times in the West, except for occasional positive gestures by some Western capitals and the explicit support for many Russian policies by Cyprus and Greece. Moscow, then, must struggle to undermine widespread anti-Russian propaganda. Hence it seems to Russophile Greeks of Cyprus and Greece that Russia should also contain its own “Turkey problem.” For during the current Russia-Turkey manifold embrace, President Erdogan’s behavior could damage Moscow’s own image and international prestige.
This article will revisit Erdogan’s characteristic foreign policy decisions, actions, and claims in the Mediterranean, the Middle East and the Aegean Sea, with particular emphasis on Ankara’s aggression against Cyprus and Greece through Erdogan’s military threats. The behavior against Moscow’s two traditional friends needs to be exposed in order to counter the spread of fake news and erroneous analyses. The Conclusion, therefore, will entail that Moscow should minimize the negative effects of Erdogan’s adventurism on Russia’s Soft Power.
Erdogan’s Goals and Means in the Eastern Mediterranean, the Middle East, and the Aegean Sea
President Erdogan has long been guiding Turkey’s belligerent regional adventures, driven by his professed ambition to establish the “New Turkey” and meet “the Borders of his Heart.” Echoing the neo-Ottoman syllogistic of his one-time mentor, Dr. Ahmet Davutoglu, he has repeatedly claimed inter alia that Turkey, as “victimized” by the Lausanne Treaty, “deserves” to regain its former (Ottoman) possessions. Thus, he has named as legitimate targets vast areas of present-day Syria, Iraq, Greece, its Aegean Islands, and Cyprus.
Erdogan’s self-declared ambitions help us call Turkey’s military interventions – in Northern Syria, Northern Iraq, Libya, and the Exclusive Economic Zone of the Republic of Cyprus – by their proper name: expansionism contrary to International Law. Nevertheless, Ankara presents itself and its policies as “in accordance with International Law.”
Similarly, in another formulation, Ankara’s officials and spokespersons make their territorial “claims” in terms of Turkey’s “rights and interests.” Therefore, they conflate these distinct concepts, aiming to extract “rights” even from subjectively and artificially conceived chauvinistic interests. “Rights,” of course, should be premised on solid legal grounds; subjectively-defined interests are, for International Law, “neither here nor there.” And yet, Erdogan and his foreign minister Mevlut Cavusoglu, his defense minister Hulusi Akar and the foreign ministry’s Hami Aksoi adopt the language of “rights and Interests,” as when they claim to pursue Turkish ambitions in what they have called “Blue Homeland.”
This neologism about a vast Eastern Mediterranean area covers half the Aegean Sea, “appropriating” all the Greek Islands of the Eastern Aegean. Moreover, by sheer Turkish Diktat, it includes the entire Exclusive Economic Zone of Cyprus and part of the EEZ of the Dodecanese Islands and Crete. So, what are Ankara’s alleged “grounds” for these claims? Turkey replies that “according to International Law,” Islands do not have either Continental Shelf or an Exclusive Economic Zone.
The claim appears inaccurate, for it contradicts the 1982 United Nations Conference on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), which states (Article 121):
- An Island is a naturally formed area of land, surrounded by water, which is above water at high tide.
- Except as provided in paragraph 3, the territorial sea, the contiguous zone, the exclusive economic zone and the continental shelf of an island are determined in accordance with the provisions of this Convention applicable to another land territory.
- Rocks which cannot sustain human habitation or economic life of their own shall have no exclusive economic zone or continental shelf.
Article 121.2 explains why Turkey refuses to sign UNCLOS, hoping it could substitute gunboat diplomacy for International Law. The UNCLOS, however, is part of International Customary Law, ratified by 167 states and by the European Union (EU), which Turkey hopes to join. Thus, the undisputed applicability of Article 121 has led to the massive condemnation of Ankara’s associated provocations.
Turkey’s “neo-surrealist” claim (as Greek FM Nikos Dendias once quipped) about Islands is currently extended to its two “MoUs” with Libya’s GNA government in Tripoli. The memorandum allegedly delineating a Turkey-Libya EEZ presupposes the elimination of the sovereign rights of numerous Greek islands, including Rhodes and Crete, by abolishing their Continental Shelf and EEZ. The EU has repeatedly deplored this memorandum as illegal. Athens and Nicosia have rejected both memoranda as “null and void.” Washington has variously expressed its condemnation calling them “provocative and counterproductive.”
Egypt’s own condemnation, submitted to the Security Council on December 19, 2019, was premised both on the technical fact that Libya’s “House of Representatives has not endorsed the two memorandums of understanding with Turkey” and the palpable geographic fact: “Egypt rejects Turkey-Libya sea rights, security agreements”:
The maritime deal would give Turkey access to an economic zone across the Mediterranean, over the objections of Greece, Cyprus, and Egypt, which lie between Tukey and Libya geographically.
A week earlier, Russian Ambassador to Athens, Andrey Maslov, commented on various issues during an annual press briefing: “Speaking on bilateral relations, Maslov said, Greece is a traditional and reliable partner for Russia in Europe, and the two countries can continue building their relations ‘even under the anti-Russian situation of sanctions’ by the EU.” He also expressed appreciation for “the established stance of the Greeks, that the architecture of security in Europe must include Russia as well.” And when asked about the recent Turkey-Libya memorandum on maritime zones, “the ambassador said he did not want to ‘enter into detailed commentary’ on the issue, which should be left to experts, but ‘the main issue is to observe the principles of international law, including the Lausanne Treaty of 1923 and the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea of 1982‘.
To Moscow’s credit, and given the mounting Libya crisis, Ambassador Maslov returned to the accusation of Turkey, when he declared explicitly: Islands do have a continental shelf and Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) in face of Turkey’s insistence that they do not.
French President Emmanuel Macron, infuriated by Turkey’s manifold illegality in Libya, including its hostile actions against the French frigate, declared “the historical and criminal responsibility” of Turkey.
Finally, Greek FM Nikos Dendias visited the President of the Libyan House of Representatives, Aguila Saleh, on July 1, 2020. In his published Statement, Mr Dendias summarized his positive discussion with Mr Saleh, including a potentially historic prospect:
We also talked about the delimitation of maritime zones between Greece and Libya, not in the framework of illegality, as is the case with the so-called Sarraj-Turkey memorandum, but in the framework of International Law and follow-up to the relevant talks held between Greece and Libya in 2010.
Despite such powerful international outcry, Erdogan and his ministers keep insisting that their decisions and actions “accord with international law.” Moreover, whenever Nicosia and Athens’ governments confront Ankara’s behavior, the latter accuses them of “not knowing their place in the world.” Therefore, verbal provocations accompany Turkey’s aggression adding insult to injury. Furthermore, since these violations of International Law and International Ethics are being progressively accumulated and intensified, they entail further negative consequences: Erdogan’s self-imprisonment in his untenable claims; the anti-Hellenic brainwashing of the Turkish people and Turkey’s Media; and their endorsement by the Turkish Opposition who, in chauvinistic competition, frequently become more “Erdoganian” than Erdogan himself.
Recent Escalating Aggression Against Cyprus and Greece
Traditionally, Greece and Cyprus have insisted on dispute-resolution according to International Law and friendship and cooperation with Ankara and the Turkish people. More recently, Nicosia and Athens realized that Turkey’s appeasement had proved utterly counterproductive: Erdogan’s and his associates’ offensive rhetoric, explicit anti-Hellenic threats, and historical and legal distortions kept escalating as some examples suffice to demonstrate.
To begin with, Erdogan’s close adviser, Yigit Bulut, after asserting his “certainty” that Washington plans to make Greece attack Turkey, declared that, since Greece “is no match for Turkey’s might,” it would be “like a fly picking a fight with a giant.” Moreover, regarding the Greek Imia islets that Turkey has decided to “claim,” Bulut stated in January 2018: We will break the arms and legs of any officers, the Prime Minister, or of any minister, who dares to step onto Imia in the Aegean (ibid.)
Also, in 2018, when a few isolated fascists burned a Turkish flag in Athens, Mustafa Deztiji, Erdogan’s political ally, declared, “The Turkish flag one day will fly again in Athens.” In March 2018, Erdogan announced with macabre pomposity how he conceived the “New Turkey” materialization, “Certainly, we will build a great and dynamic future for Turkey, and for this, we will sacrifice our life and take the lives of others when needed.”
Such rhetoric was not improvised or temporary. Burak Bekdil, the distinguished Turkish columnist, offered memorable comments on the 2020 celebrations of Constantinople’s 1453 conquest. Since Erdogan commemorated the conquest personally with Islamic prayers at the Hagia Sophia, arguably Christianity’s holiest monument, Bekdil wrote among other things:
In Turkish jargon…it is “conquest” when we do it and “invasion” when others do it. In this year’s celebrations, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan raised the stakes when he spoke of the conquest prospectively, not just retrospectively. “I wish that God grant this nation many more happy conquests,” he said at a celebration where he recited from the Quran. .
In all this typically Turkish “conquest” fanfare, a serious question remains to be asked: When Erdogan wished God to grant Turkey many more happy conquests,” which non-Turkish lands is he hoping to “conquer”?
Besides such provocative verbal actions; Greece and Cyprus also experience Turkey’s unending hostility by non-verbal actions. They include the permanent violation of Greek airspace in the Aegean and the Athens Freedom of Information Region (FIR) by armed Turkish military jets, demonstrating Ankara’s expansionist dreams; the daily flights by Turkish military jets over Greek Aegean islands, often a few hundred meters above the terrified inhabitants; the constant issue of illegal NAVTEX within the Republic of Cyprus’ EEZ, long aiming to cancel or disrupt Nicosia’s hydrocarbon program; the “abortion” of gas drilling by SAPIEM 1200 in Bloc 3 of the Cypriot EEZ in March 2018 by the Turkish Navy, violating Cyprus’ contract with the Italian company ENI; the deliberate crash of a Turkish coast guard vessel into a Greek patrol boat off Imia in February 2018, literally threatening Greek sailors’ lives.
In 2019, Ankara intensified its “third invasion” within the Cypriot EEZ, by sending new drilling ships always accompanied by the Turkish Navy. The EU Institutions and individual Member-States flatly condemned these actions. Official Russian voices have consistently condemned Ankara’s relevant behavior since 2011, and Russian Ambassador Stanislav Osadchiy regularly declares that Moscow recognizes Cyprus’ sovereign rights in its EEZ. At the same time, Ambassador Tasos Tzonis received the same assurances when he met Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Grushko last October: “Full Russian support for the Republic of Cyprus’ sovereign rights in its sea zones during Tzionis’ discussions in Moscow.”  And yet, because all the statements condemning Turkey haven’t been accompanied by tangible sanctions, Erdogan remains unmoved, fixated on brutally contradicting the principles and norms of International Law.
The Evros Crisis as a Test-Case
In early 2020, the whole world witnessed in awe the incredible Evros River Crisis, at the northern Greece-Turkey border. During a late February Greek holiday, the “hybrid invasion” of Greece was attempted by thousands of people, misled by Ankara to believe that “Turkey’s borders with Europe are now open.” Erdogan had opened Turkey’s border to Greece while Athens had declared it closed, unable to host any more than the thousands it has been forced by Turkey to accept on the Aegean Islands and mainland Greece. Moreover, the overwhelming majority of these people were neither “refugees from Syria” nor even refugees, mainly economic migrants, primarily from Pakistan, Afghanistan, and North Africa. As it transpired, they included former prisoners in Turkish prisons and real jihadists from Syria.
What is happening here is a textbook case for destabilizing entire regions. The situation is similar to the pre-Balkan crisis in Kosovo. Erdogan’s movements follow the same patterns as the ones that preceded his intervention in Syria, when he used the populations expelled from there as weapons and an alibi .
In addition to “weaponizing” thousands of miserable people in order to destabilize Greece and “flood the EU” (Erdogan’s stereotypical threat) to extract pro-Turkey decisions – including more money and support for his Syria adventures – the crisis was aggravated by Ankara’s orchestrated campaign of fake news and vicious propaganda. Immature Western journalists, passionate Turkish propagandists, and some naïve Western academics were deceived by Turkey’s fabricated news and unethical misinformation, threatening Greece’s dignity and prestige.
But the EU’s top leadership set the record straight. It gave full support to Greece through the visit to Evros River by European Commission President Ursula von der Leiden, European Council President Charles Michel, European Parliament President David-Maria Sassoli, and Croatian Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic. They were escorted by Greek PM Kyriakos Mitsotakis, who said that “Turkey has now become an ‘official migrant smuggler’.” The EU leaders added that “It is no longer a refugee-migration problem but an ‘asymmetric threat’ to Greece’s eastern border, which is also Europe’s border.”
Ankara’s psychological warfare included the Interior Minister’s unashamed lie that “117,677 refugees have crossed into Greece” (ibid.). EURAKTIV’s Balkan expert, Georgi Gotev, explained in detail (ibid): that “the total number of migrants gathered in the border areas is estimated at some 20,000”; that the Greek authorities said that fewer than 200 migrants have managed to cross the border; and that “Greece has already sentenced all of them to four years of jail for illegal crossing.”
Therefore, the tragedy turned into Erdogan and his regime’s downturn. Eventually, Greece took effective measures to protect its and Europe’s borders from such “hybrid warfare.” While It attracted the respect of political elites and honest foreign commentators, the notorious pro-Erdogan Daily Sabah continued its unending anti-Hellenic hate-speech, as evidenced from the following formulation:
Ankara recently announced that it would no longer try to stop asylum-seekers, refugees, and migrants from crossing into Europe. Thousands have since flocked to Turkey’s Edirne province, which borders Greece and Bulgaria to make their way into Europe.
Daily Sabah’s attack used dubious statements by a certain “refugee rights researcher” and “advocate at Human Rights Watch,” who insulted the Greek security forces for having “detained, assaulted, sexually assaulted, robbed, and stripped asylum-seekers and migrants.” This fabrication has been totally falsified by independent reporters and commentators; by the aforementioned top EU officials; and by the European Border and Coast Guard Agency (FRONTEX). Hence, Michael Rubin’s April 1, 2020, commentary, entitled, “Human Rights Watch reports are no longer credible.”
The Evros case illustrates Ankara’s ruses, narratives’ manipulation and other practices deployed in the Eastern Mediterranean, the Cypriot EEZ, the Aegean Sea, Syria, Iraq, and now Libya, in order to implement Erdogan’s megalomania  What deserves a separate treatment is why Hellenism is Erdogan’s fixed target, verbally abused daily and threatened militarily unless Cyprus and Greece yield to his blackmail.
For now, the following hypotheses seem irresistible: (1) Turkey’s anti-Hellenic geopolitical bulimia erupted in the 1970s when oil reserves were discovered in the northern Aegean and Ankara decided to claim half the Aegean Continental Shelf; (2) the “Blue Homeland” consists primarily of Greek territories and Greece’s threatened sovereign rights; (3) Turkey had always regarded Greece as far weaker than Turkey and weaker than what Greece really is; (4) Turkey cannot forgive Cyprus and Greece for their EEZs’ hydrocarbon deposits in contrast to missing its own; (5) Erdogan cannot “tolerate” that Hellenism has weaved substantial collaboration with neighboring Egypt, Israel, Jordan, and Lebanon; increasingly with France; and perhaps with (hovering) Italy; and (6) Turkish theologian, Cemil Kilic, asked about Erdogan’s passion for turning Aghia Sophia into a mosque, admitted inter alia Turkey’s “sense of inferiority vis-à-vis the West.” If so, for obvious historical and cultural reasons, one could deduce that Erdogan’s inferiority complex towards Hellenism may be far more robust and probably incurable.
Previous RIAC articles authored by me since 2017 have celebrated Russia’s very special links and bonds with Hellenism, premised on mutual interests, shared values, historical/cultural affinities, and respect for International Law. More recently, I recognized some reservations and joint complaints in Russia-Cyprus relations, emanating primarily from the Moscow-Ankara “multiple embrace.” However, progressively, Erdogan’s “sui generis personality and geopolitical megalomania have worsened Russia-Turkey relations since, besides concurrence, they also exhibit contradictory perceptions and interests, rights, and suspicions.
Moreover, Erdogan’s opportunism, adventurism, and overextension show today signs of despair, since certain decisions have traumatized Turkey’s economy while questionable actions have isolated the country. The EU’s alarming inaction toward Erdogan’s aggressiveness, especially against Cyprus and Greece, was primarily a matter of some member-states’ economic interests.
In summer 2020, however, after President Macron’s aforementioned eruption, Angela Merkel’s seeming exhaustion, the threat of an Egypt-Turkey military confrontation, the apparent failure of Josep Borrel’s peace-making trip to Ankara, Turkey’s exhibition of Realpolitik cum Machtpolitik, and, finally, after the bombing of Turkey-supported targets in Libya (al-Watiya), the EU seems to be changing its mind. After all, Erdogan’s Libya intervention has secured substantial international condemnation by numerous actors – France, Egypt, UAE, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Cyprus, Greece, and Russia – sufficient to miss the next “SOFT POWER 30.” Inevitably, Russian Soft Power is being victimized by the Erdogan association. Hence Moscow, uniquely capable of containing its trouble-making associate, is ideally placed to take appropriate initiatives: as a service to international stability, international dignity, and Russia’s international image and prestige.
1. Shay Attias, Russian Soft Power in the Middle East, BESA Center Perspectives Paper No.1,238, July 26, 2019
2. See Cyprus News Agency, October 15, 2019.
3. Any country would act like Greece, Cyprus Mail, March 5, 2020
4. For Erdogan’s array of deceptive rhetorical devices, see Costas Melakopides, Brief Remarks on President R.T. Erdogan and His Allies’ Methodical Use of Logical Fallacies, RUDN Journal of Political Science, Vol. 20, No.3, 2018, pp. 376-386.
From our partner RIAC
Russia lacks sufficient number of migrants to fulfill its ambitious development plans
Despite various official efforts, including regular payment of maternal capital to stimulate birth rates and regulating migration policy to boost population, Russia is reportedly experiencing decreasing population. According to the Federal State Statistics Service, Russia’s population currently stands at approximately 144 million, down from 148.3 million.
Experts at the Higher School of Economics believe that regulating the legal status of migrants, majority of them arriving from the Commonwealth of Independent States or the former Soviet republics, could be useful or resourceful for developing the economy, especially on various infrastructure projects planned for country. These huge human resources could be used in the vast agricultural fields to boost domestic agricultural production. On the contrary, the Federal Migration Service plans to deport all illegal migrants from Russia.
Within the long-term sustainable development program, Russia has multibillion dollar plans to address its infrastructure deficit especially in the provinces, and undertake megaprojects across its vast territory, and migrant labor could be useful here. The government can ensure that steady improvements are consistently made with the strategy of legalizing (regulating legal status) and redeploying the available foreign labor, majority from the former Soviet republics rather than deporting back to their countries of origin.
Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin has been credited for transforming the city into a very neat and smart modern one, thanks partly to foreign labor – invaluable reliable asset – performing excellently in maintaining cleanliness and on the large-scale construction sites, and so also in various micro-regions on the edge or outskirts of Moscow.
With its accumulated experience, the Moscow City Hall has now started hosting the Smart Cities Moscow, international forum dedicated to the development of smart cities and for discussing about changes in development strategies, infrastructure challenges and adaptation of the urban environment to the realities of the new normal society.
Kremlin Spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters that Russia lacks sufficient number of migrants to fulfill its ambitious development plans. He further acknowledged that the number of migrants in Russia has reduced significantly, and now their numbers are not sufficient to implement ambitious projects in the country.
“I can only speak about the real state of affairs, which suggests that, in fact, we have very few migrants remaining over the past year. Actually, we have a severe dearth of these migrants to implement our ambitious plans,” the Kremlin spokesman pointed out.
In particular, it concerns projects in agricultural and construction sectors. “We need to build more than we are building now. It should be more tangible, and this requires working hands. There is certainly a shortage in migrants. Now there are few of them due to the pandemic,” Peskov said.
Early April, an official from the Russian Interior Ministry told TASS News Agency that the number of illegal migrants working in Russia decreased by 40% in 2020 if compared to the previous year. It also stated that 5.5 million foreign citizens were registered staying in Russia last year, while the average figure previously ranged between nine and eleven million.
On March 30, 2021, President Vladimir Putin chaired the tenth meeting of the Presidential Council for Interethnic Relations via videoconference, noted that tackling the tasks facing the country needs not only an effective economy but also competent management. For a huge multinational state such as Russia, it is fundamentally, and even crucially important, to ensure public solidarity and a feeling of involvement in the life, and responsibility for its present and future.
At this moment, over 80 percent of Russian citizens have a positive view on interethnic relations, and it is important in harmonizing interethnic relations in the country, Putin noted during the meeting, and added “Russia has a unique and original heritage of its peoples. It is part of our common wealth, it should be accessible to every resident of our country, every citizen, everyone who lives on this land. Of course, we will need to review the proposal to extend the terms for temporary stay of minors of foreign citizens in the Russian Federation.”
President Vladimir Putin has already approved a list of instructions aimed at reforming the migration requirements and the institution of citizenship in Russia based on the proposals drafted by the working group for implementation of the State Migration Policy Concept of the Russian Federation for 2019-2025.
“Within the framework of the working group for implementation of the State Migration Policy Concept of the Russian Federation for 2019-2025, the Presidential Executive Office of the Russian Federation shall organize work aimed at reforming the migration requirements and the institution of citizenship of the Russian Federation,” an official statement posted to Kremlin website.
In addition, the president ordered the Government, the Interior and Foreign Ministries, the Federal Security Service (FSB), and the Justice Ministry alongside the Presidential Executive Office to make amendments to the plan of action for 2019-2021, aimed at implementing the State Migration Policy Concept of the Russian Federation for 2019-2025.
Nobody Wants a War in Donbass
Any escalation is unique in its own way. Right now there’s a combination of unfavorable trends on both sides, which are leading to an escalation of the conflict. This combination creates additional risks and threats that weren’t there before.
On the Ukrainian side, the problem is that the president is losing his political position and becoming a hostage of right-wing and nationalist forces. Many of the reform initiatives that he came to power with have stalled. Political sentiments are changing within his faction. They’re saying that with his recent steps, in particular the language law and the closure of television stations that Kyiv dislikes, he’s starting to stray towards the agenda of his predecessor, Poroshenko. And this means a weakening of his position. Probably, he’s already thinking about re-election and how he will look during the campaign. Here, the trend is unfavorable.
On the other hand, there’s the arrival of Biden, who will always be more attentive to Ukraine than Trump. There’s an expectation that the U.S. will be more consistent and decisive in its support for the Ukrainian side in the event of a conflict. This invigorates the forces that are looking for an escalation.
The conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh also played a role. They said there was only a political path to resolving the conflict, but in Karabakh [the Azerbaijanis] used force and made real progress. This motivates the people who think that military force can resolve a conflict. Moreover, Ukraine is carrying out defense cooperation with Turkey, so there may be hopes that the balance of forces will shift in Kyiv’s favor.
There’s also a radicalization of the political leadership of the DNR and LNR. They say that [full-scale] war is, if not inevitable, than very likely—and Russia must intervene. The idea that the DNR and LNR should join Russia is gaining popularity once again. This is facilitated by Russia’s actions. In the last two years, the mechanisms for granting Russian citizenship to residents of the LNR and DNR have changed. Hundreds of thousands of LNR and DNR residents are already citizens of the Russian Federation, and Russia has—or at the very least should have—some obligations towards its citizens. This gives hope to [the residents] of the LNR and DNR that if an escalation begins, Russia won’t remain on the sidelines and we will see large-scale intervention. Without Russia, the conflict will not develop in the favor of the republics.
As for Russia, our relations with the West continue to deteriorate. There’s Biden’s statement about Putin being a killer, and relations with the European Union. We are witnessing an accumulation of destabilizing trends.
I don’t think anyone wants a real, big war, since the costs of such a conflict will exceed the political dividends. It’s difficult to predict what such a conflict might lead to, given that the stakes are very high. But an unintended escalation could occur.
Hopefully, all of those involved have enough wisdom, determination, and tolerance to find a positive solution. So far, we are far from a serious conflict, but we’re closer than at the beginning of April 2020 or 2019. Unfortunately, we’re headed downhill, and it’s difficult to say how long it will go on.
To prevent a [full-scale] war from starting, the situation in Donbass needs to be stabilized. That’s the first task. In recent weeks, the number of ceasefire violations has been increasing, and the number of victims is growing. We need to return to the issues of the withdrawal of heavy weapons, the OSCE mission, and monitoring the ceasefire.
The second task is to discuss issues of political regulation. The main uncertainty is how flexible all the parties can be. The Minsk agreements were signed a long time ago, [but] it’s difficult to implement them in full, there needs to be a demonstrated willingness not to revise them, but to somehow bring them up to date. How ready are the parties for this? So far, we aren’t seeing much of this, but without it we will not advance any further.
The third issue is that it’s impossible to resolve the Donbass problem separately from the problem of European security as a whole. If we limit ourselves to how we fought in Donbass, Kyiv will always be afraid that Russia will build up its strength and an intervention will begin. And in Russia there will always be the fear that NATO infrastructure will be developed near Voronezh and Belgorod. We have to deal not only with this issue, but also think about how to create the entire architecture of European security. And it isn’t a question of experts lacking imagination and qualifications, but of statesmen lacking the political will to seriously deal with these issues. Because if you reduce everything to the requirements of the formal implementation of the Minsk agreements, this is what we’ve been fighting about for seven years already.
I think that Ukraine will now try to increase the political pressure on Moscow and get away from the issue of the Minsk agreements. And going forward a lot depends on what the position of the West and U.S. will be. To what extent and in what format will they provide support in the event of an escalation? This is still an open question. And, I think, even Biden doesn’t know the answer to it.
From our partner RIAC
Updating the USSR: A Test for Freedom
Thirty years ago, on March 17, 1991, the only all-Union referendum in the history of the USSR took place. One question was put to a vote: “Do you consider it necessary to preserve the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics as a renewed federation of equal sovereign republics, in which the rights and freedoms of a person of any nationality will be fully guaranteed?” Almost 77 percent of those who voted said “yes” to the preservation of the USSR in an updated form. The authorities of Armenia, Georgia, Latvia, Lithuania, Moldova and Estonia refused to hold the referendum on their territory. By that time, the legislative and executive bodies and institutions in these republics were already controlled by secessionist forces, which did not hide their intentions to leave the USSR.
The March 17 referendum at that time was the only convincing attempt to appeal to public opinion on the most important issue of the political life of a huge country. However, the results did not change anything — by December 8 of the same year, the leaders of Belarus, Russia and Ukraine decided to dissolve the USSR. The referendum itself became the beginning of the end of a unique state — an experiment in the vast expanses of Eurasia. By that time, the republican elites were already ready to take power and wealth into their own hands; the events of August 1991 spurred this readiness — in Turkmenistan, where almost 100 percent of the population voted to preserve the USSR, on August 22, 1991, all enterprises were placed under republican control.
All the republics of the USSR met the new year in 1992 as newly independent states. For some of them, this status was a long-awaited event, for which they had fought. Others were, according to former Prime Minister of Kyrgyzstan Apas Jumagulov, “thrown out of the union, cut off as an unnecessary part of the body.” Many economic ties broke off immediately, while others collapsed gradually; the rest survived and were even strengthened. In politics, everyone was left to their own problems. Azerbaijan, Armenia, Georgia, Moldova and Tajikistan plunged into bloody political and interethnic conflicts during their first years of independence.
The path of the countries that emerged from the ruins of the USSR over the years was the road to gaining their own subjectivity in international politics. With great difficulty and despite all odds, Armenia and Moldova are coping with this task. The majority — Russia, Azerbaijan and all the countries of Central Asia — were able to solve the problem more or less successfully. Georgia and two Slavic republics — Belarus and Ukraine, were hanging in the “limbo” between external management and full-fledged statehood. The three Baltic republics quickly transferred their sovereignty to the European Union and NATO. In their independent development, they had to make, in fact, the only decision, which, moreover, was due to historical reasons and external circumstances. This decision was made and now the fate of Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia cannot be perceived outside the context of Russia-West interaction.
For the rest, the direct link between success in creating their own statehood and the scale of interaction with the West (Europe and the United States) is quite obvious. This historical fact reveals a relationship between the ability of small and medium states to ensure their sovereignty and the interests of the great powers in their neighbourhood. Such powers were Russia and the European states, united into the European Union simultaneously with the collapse of the USSR. Also, an important role was played by the United States, which always sought to limit Russian opportunities and supported the newly independent states. At the same time, an attempt to choose in favour of closer relations with the West to the detriment of Russian interests in all cases, without exception, led to a very shaky statehood and the loss of territory.
The dramatic fate of Armenia, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine shows that the strong collective institutions of the West are capable of exerting a stabilising effect only on those states that directly became part of them.
In all other cases, no matter how complete absorption becomes possible, an orientation towards these institutions only leads to the use of small countries in a diplomatic game with bigger partners.
Therefore, the experience of the development of such major players as Azerbaijan or Uzbekistan is indicative — they were able to confidently form their own statehood, without finding themselves in a situation of choosing between conflicting poles of power. Their main resource turned out to be a rather fair demographic situation. But not only this — the population of Ukraine has also been and remains large by European standards. Kazakhstan is a success by this indicator; equal to the average European country or small Asian states.
Therefore, the ability of most of the countries of the former USSR to build relatively independent and stable statehood played no less important role. In many ways, this ability was established during the years of the Soviet Union’s existence. Founded on December 30, 1922, it was not just a continuation of the Russian Empire, which had collapsed five years earlier. Its main distinguishing feature was its unique model of state administration, based on the full power of one political party. As long as the unique position of the Communist Party remained in the Soviet state, the experiment could exist. With the abolition of Article 6 of the Constitution of the USSR, its days were numbered regardless of the desire of the population or the real readiness of the elites to take full responsibility for what was happening.
The USSR model of state structure, new by historical standards, created the conditions for a rather unique experiment, within the framework of which union republics were created, none of which, except for Russia, Georgia and Armenia, had the experience of centralised state administration within the territorial boundaries that they acquired within the framework of the USSR. At least the peoples inhabiting them can boast of a significant experience of statehood as such. Thus, most of the countries of Central Asia trace their ancestry back to great empires or urban civilizations of past centuries.
The Baltic republics were always on the sidelines — their independent statehood arose during the collapse of the Russian Empire and existed as such for almost 20 years before being incorporated into the USSR in 1940. Russia has returned to its historical state of being a major European power or empire of the 19th century, with the development of a multinational and multi-faith society central to its development objectives. In fact, Russia has not lost anything really necessary for its survival in international politics.
The peculiar structure of the USSR formalised the situation in which the former outskirts of the Russian Empire ceased to be part of the Russian state, although Moscow served as the centre of the union. Russia among them was in the most ambiguous position — it did not have its own most important institutions of Soviet statehood — the party organisation and the republican State Security Committee. Russian nationalism was subjected to the most severe and consistent persecution by the Soviet authorities.
The vast majority of republics within the USSR, for the first time, received the experience of building their own state and their national elite.
The backbone of the ruling class was the Soviet and party nomenklatura, which all took power, with few exceptions, after 1991. Even in Tajikistan, where the first years of independence were overshadowed by the civil war, it was this part of society that was eventually able to establish control over the situation. In other Central Asian countries, elites formed on the basis of the state tradition established during the Soviet era, gradually supplemented by representatives of a new generation that grew professionally after the collapse of the USSR.
Thirty years is a sufficient period to assess the results of the independent development of the countries that emerged from the republics of the former USSR. Now the period of their growing up can be considered complete; ahead is an independent future. Russia is increasingly feeling independent and not particularly obligated to its neighbours. In any event, Moscow will continue to follow a moral imperative of responsibility for maintaining peace and strictly ensure that its neighbours correlate their actions with Russian security interests.
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