Connect with us

Russia

Will Erdogan’s Adventures Hurt Russian Soft Power?

Published

on

putin erdogan nato

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 [1].” 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):

  1. An Island is a naturally formed area of land, surrounded by water, which is above water at high tide.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.” [2] 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 [3].

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 [4] 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.

Conclusion

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

Continue Reading
Comments

Russia

Russian Foreign Ministry sees elements of show in “Navalny poisoning”

Published

on

Russian Foreign Ministry’s press secretary Maria Zakharova has yet again dwelled with her usual sarcasm on last year’s reports about “Russia’s top opposition leader” and “the deadly Novichok”. Zakharova made the comments with her hallmark sense of humour over her Telegram channel following newly released reports on the results of an inquiry into the “poisoning of Navalny”, which appeared in the course of the 97th session of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons in July.

On August 20 last year, Russia’s public activist and campaigner Alexei Navalny had to be taken off his flight at Omsk and was delivered to hospital in a grave condition. Well before the final diagnosis he was flown to a Berlin hospital and there he was diagnosed with Novichok poisoning. Later on, he revealed the results of his own investigation which established the involvement in the poisoning of a group of FSB agents. The story has become the butt of a joke in Russia. Russians want to know why Novichok has not killed anyone so far and why Russian special services are unable to carry out a simple elimination operation.

Giving rise to more jokes was the publication of “an inquiry into the poisoning of Alexei Navalny” which the Russian side obtained from a report on the activities of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons in implementation of its core document – the 2020-2021 Convention. Part 1.41 of the report, which was published after the session, says that “on August 20, 2020, at the request of Germany, the Secretariat dispatched a group of experts who were to render technical assistance in connection with reports about the poisoning of the Russian activist”. But August 20 was the very day of the poisoning of Alexei Navalny, who suddenly felt ill on board of the plane and who told the passengers about the poisoning himself. At about 6 a.m. (4.00 CET) Moscow time the plane with Navalny on board made an emergency landing at Omsk. The news got into the media by midday.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron were in meeting at the time. At 18.30 CET they give a press conference signaling the need to conduct an inquiry. On the same day the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons received a request from Germany and reacted. However, for an international organization that adheres to specific procedures a reaction that quick is impossible for technical reasons. Unless all this has been planned before, which is what Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova points out.

Russian representatives prepared for the 97th session of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons far better than the Germans. That’s why when asked why the draft report contains the date August 20 the German side first said that it was a misprint and then “recalled” that on that day chancellor Merkel turned to the Organization with a request. In any case, the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons must secure a preliminary approval from its Secretariat before it can send any experts for conducting an inquiry. Interestingly, the Organization could not explain the confusion over the dates and procedures.  

This situation enabled the Russian Foreign Ministry to ‘’strike a new blow’’, accusing the United States, Britain and a number of European countries of regularly breaching the Chemical Weapons Convention. Simultaneously, many Russian media reminded their subscribers that Navalny was hospitalized after two days of noisy parties and visits to the sauna. The lifestyle of “Russia’s top opposition campaigner” causes a lot of criticism, as the anti-corruption activist lives a lavish life, which is unaffordable to most Russians and alienates potential supporters.

Zakharova’s harsh and sarcastic statements, made via her Telegram channel and picked up by the Russian media, de facto demonstrate that Moscow views the entire “poisoning” story as poorly fabricated and will not accept whatever results the West’s inquiry may present. We can see that the “Navalny case” does have a lot of flaws and that the Kremlin had clearly pointed them out. Even the ardent opponents to the Russian government refrain from mentioning “poisoning”, saying that “Alexei” went over the line and that the  story about “the Novichok-soaked underpants” sounds implausible.

Continue Reading

Russia

Russia and the West: Are Values the Problem?

Published

on

The National Security Strategy of the Russian Federation approved by the President of Russia will go down in history as a document that sharpened the issue of the country’s traditional spiritual and moral values. Values were also featured in in its predecessor, Strategy 2015. However, Strategy 2021 has new accents. The source of the threat is the “Westernisation” of culture. Russian values, according to the document, are being attacked by the United States and its allies, transnational corporations, as well as foreign non-profit, non-governmental, religious, extremist and terrorist organisations. If earlier terrorism and extremism, in one way or another, were separated from the “Western” theme, now they are considered threats of the same order. The transition of confrontation with the West to the realm of values is a new stage in Russian strategic thinking. Earlier such a confrontation was perceived more in terms of material categories (defence, economics), but now it has clearly shifted to an ideological level. Why did this transition take place? What problems will Russia face in the new paradigm, and what are the strengths and weaknesses of this approach?

Let’s start with the premises. Russian foreign policy has been deviating from the value dimension for quite a long time. A certain surge occurred in the early 1990s with the idea that Russia’s values were converging with those of the West. But by the second half of the 1990s, there was a clear departure from liberal idealism towards pragmatic realism. In the early 2000s, realism finally took root in Russian doctrines. We viewed security and foreign policy in terms of specific material threats. On this basis, interaction with external forces, including the West, was built. The realism of Russian thinking was determined, on the one hand, by fatigue from the excessive ideologisation of Soviet foreign policy, and, on the other hand, by quick disappointment in political rapprochement with the West and the understanding that declarations of common values do not necessarily mean avoiding competition.

Western foreign policy, on the other hand, retained its ideological burden. Russia quickly returned to the ranks of the “significant others”. That is, it again became a reference point against which the Western identity was built. New residents of the “Western House” from the countries of Central and Eastern Europe played a role here. For them, the formation of a new identity was a particularly important task, and opposing the former “empire” was a convenient political technology. This process began long before the events in Crimea in 2014. Voices about Russian authoritarianism, expansionism, etc. began to be heard back in the early 2000s, paradoxically adjacent to statements about the inevitable extinction of the once-mighty power. Identity games have also become a political technology in the post-Soviet space. The notorious “colour revolutions” unfolded, among other things, on the basis of the opposition’s concept of “modern West vs. backward Russia”.

In Russia itself, positioning the West as a “significant other” was initially the lot of the opposition. In the 1990s, both the left and the right built their election campaigns on it. The former exploited nostalgia for Soviet times, the latter exploited the demand for “geopolitical” revenge. In the 2000s, such a narrative partly moved to the level of state policy, although it did not reach the level of open opposition between value models. The process accelerated after 2014, but even then, the value component of the Russian approach to the West was noticeably less significant in comparison with the narratives of individual Western countries and organisations. In 2021, the value load of Russian strategic thinking approached the Western one. What used to sound veiled and had remained between the lines is now called by its proper names. At the same time, the core values proposed by the new Strategy will face several conceptual problems.

The first problem is related to the fact that the values that are proclaimed in the Strategy: Russian spiritual and moral guidelines as opposed to “Westernisation”, are either of Western origin, or, at least, are not alien to the West. Among them, the document notes life, dignity, human rights and freedoms, patriotism, citizenship, service to the Fatherland, high moral ideals, a strong family, creative work, the priority of the spiritual over the material, humanism, mercy, collectivism, mutual assistance and mutual respect, historical memory and the continuity of generations.

Rights and freedoms are the values of the Enlightenment, the cradle of which is Western Europe. The same goes for patriotism and citizenship. The English Revolution, the French Revolution, and then a series of other revolutions in Europe opened the way for them. The revolutions in Russia itself also took place under the same slogans, although the Russian imperial government managed to organically integrate patriotism into its system of values. Life and dignity are rather universal values and are certainly shared by many in North America and Europe. In the West, it is difficult to find a society that would abandon the high moral ideals and values of the family, in spite of several waves of “sexual revolution” and emancipation. Creative labour is at the core of Western economic ethics. Here is the combination of the spiritual and the material. To regard the capitalist West as an adherent of the primacy of the material would be an exaggeration. Suffice it to recall the Protestant ethics and the “spirit of capitalism”, or the high religiosity in a number of societies. Inglehart’s large-scale studies have shown that the choice between conditionally spiritual and conditionally material priorities changes cyclically. That is, one generation can be driven by materialists, the next idealists, and the next materialists once again.

Humanism is a Western concept. By and large, it underlies liberal political theory with its assumption of the creative nature of man and human life as the highest value. Mercy, mutual assistance and mutual respect are universal values. The same goes for justice. Moreover, it is in Western political thought that the theory of justice has been the subject of reflection for centuries and even millennia — from Plato’s just state to John Rawls’s theory of justice. Finally, collectivism is also present in the Western value matrix. Here are both ideas of the common good and theories of the political community. Within the West itself, there are societies that are more “collectivist”, or conversely, more “individualistic”.

The second problem is related to the fact that the West itself is extremely heterogeneous. It consists of many ways and cultures. Yes, there is a common narrative promoted by security organisations (NATO), those promoting economic and political integration (the EU), and individual nation states. But under this surface there is a great degree of variety, which simply cannot be reduced to a common denominator. Conservative Poland, with its restrained attitude towards migrants, high religiosity and the prohibition of abortions, coexists with a multicultural Germany, which has much wider boundaries of tolerance. Within Italy, there are at least two subcultures: of the North and South. Moreover, they differ radically in the peculiarities of the organization of society, in labour ethics, and in electoral preferences. The United States is also distinguished by its significant level of diversity, even though it is often mistakenly regarded as a kind of homogeneous organism, transmitting values of the same order abroad. Internal differences are sometimes colossal. What are the informal rifts between the North and the South that have been preserved since the Civil War? In America, we will also find polar views on the theme of sexual minorities, which Russian critics love. Those of tolerant California will be very different, for example, from those of “the Cotton Belt”. The occasional murder of members of sexual minorities is a part of American life. They can happen anywhere. You can recall the historical experience. The well-known McCarthyism of the 1950s coexisted with the activities of John Peurifoy, the Deputy Undersecretary of State for Administration. He “exposed” the “homosexual underground” in his department, firing 91 employees. True, at that time, representatives of minorities were also considered to be clandestine communists.

In short, by declaring that the West is a force that promotes “broad views of life”, we can find, to put it mildly, misunderstandings among large segments of the population in Western countries who hold completely opposite views. Any generalisation here requires careful calculation and elaboration.

Finally, the third problematic aspect is the specificity of the Russian society itself. Since at least the 17th century, we have been under the powerful cultural and civilisational influence of the West. Moreover, the openness to such influence was a deliberate decision of the political elites. The Westernisation of Russia began at the top and was actively promoted by the Russian leaders with certain fluctuations for more than three centuries. We tried to borrow the core of the Western experience — the rationalisation of key political institutions, their transformation into a smoothly working efficient machine. Here we are primarily talking about the army, bureaucracy and instruments of disciplinary power. Without this borrowing, Russia, apparently, would have suffered the same fate as China in the 19th century, which was literally torn to pieces by more advanced opponents. Instead, the modernisation of the army and the political apparatus in accordance with Western models brought Russia the status of a great power.

Throughout the 19th century, battles between Westernisers and Slavophiles were fought in Russia. Both camps were not satisfied with the half-heartedness of modernisation and relations with the West. The Slavophiles, as you know, called for “returning to the roots”, believing that borrowing only distorted and disfigured the Russian historical path. The Westernisers, on the contrary, urged to complete the process, not to be limited by the army and the apparatus of coercion, and to modernise all social and political institutions.

The revolution of 1917 and the victory of Soviet power can hardly be considered a victory for the Westernisers or Slavophiles. But the form of Westernisation which is familiar to us has been preserved and even intensified. Socialist (communist) ideology itself was of Western origin. Yes, the Russian Marxists have made their notable and original contributions to it. But the basic principles remained those of Enlightenment and rationalism — that is, Western. Here is the belief in the creativity of man (anthropological optimism and humanism), and emancipation in all spheres, including, incidentally, family and sexual relations, and the primacy of human rights and freedoms. Of course, it all turned out a little differently. In fact, the usual imperial model of modernisation was reproduced: the development of the army, the apparatus of disciplinary power, as well as all the industrial and scientific potential necessary for a modernisation breakthrough. At the same time came the preservation and sharp strengthening of the space of non-freedom. The mixture of modernisation of the institutions of coercion with the mass character of modernisation according to the Western model, among other things, gave rise to specific forms of totalitarian being set up within society, which, however, became softer over time. The eternal half-heartedness of our Westernisation, its exaggeration in some areas, and sublimation in others, became one of the reasons for the collapse of the Soviet state.

Is the dispute between conventional Westernisers and Slavophiles relevant now? Unlikely so. In the nineteenth century, Russia really did have a cultural base of bearers of “traditional” values. We are talking about the village and large masses of people who were not involved in modern forms of organisation of the economy and society. The deepest rupture and at the same time the inextricable connection between them and the elite of the time is perfectly described in classical Russian literature. However, in the twentieth century, this base was largely destroyed. The Soviet modernisation project melted agrarian Russia into an industrial and urbanised country with a completely different way of life. Religious institutions were simply trampled underfoot. In terms of secularisation, we are far ahead of the West.

In terms of urbanisation and lifestyle, late Soviet and post-Soviet Russia were and are a Western society with all its attendant problems. Society has lost its traditional landmarks.

Our family institution is a typical Western model with a small number of children and a high divorce rate. Moreover, this trend was entrenched back in the 1960s. The collapse of the USSR and the collapse of the economy only exacerbated all the typical problems of an urban and modernised society. There is a high level of murders and suicides, alcoholism, and the atomisation of society.

In other words, it is difficult for us to offer the world and ourselves an alternative to “traditional culture”, since during the 20th century its social base was lost as a result of unprecedented modernisation. It made it possible to achieve large-scale results and turn the Soviet Union into a superpower. But it also had a price. In comparison with Russia, the countries of, for example, the Middle East region have had a much more significant potential for constructing a “traditional” identity, if only because of the decisive role of religion in political public life. Is all of Russia ready for such an experience? Obviously not, especially given the fact that our country itself is rather heterogeneous. The post-Soviet period has intensified this heterogeneity. The outstripping modernisation of large cities was accompanied by an equally tangible demodernisation in a number of regions and segments of Russian society. Moreover, the experience of modernisation and demodernisation is intricately intertwined.

Does it mean that tradition in such a society is generally impossible? Of course not. But this is a different type of tradition. A tradition based on patriotism, citizenship and the preservation of historical memory is not much different in structure from similar patterns in many Western countries. This means that the opposition to the West here will also be very notional.

Whether we like it or not, our ties with the West are not going anywhere. Political contradictions and a military threat will force us, at least, to take into account the Western experience of organising the army, industry and science.

Value impulses from various Western countries will come to us even if we strictly censor information and the public space. In Russian society, social groups persist with a demand for the modernisation of the economy, institutions and society, including those which reflect the Western model. The fact that such groups are a minority is unlikely to be directly correlated with their influence. The Russian elite itself is Westernised. There are also numerous cadres in economics, science and other critical areas that cannot exist in a closed society. Cleansing these spheres and even mass repressions will not solve the problem in principle, because these spheres themselves work or should work in the frame of reference of a modern, modernised society.

Finally, the most important thing. Values alone do not prevent political conflicts from arising. The peoples of Russia and Ukraine, for example, are close in terms of their respective value spheres. But politically Moscow and Kiev are opponents. There are a lot of similar examples. The modern West is literally built on bones. For several centuries, wars between members of the “united Christian community” have been an almost-daily routine in international relations. The long-lasting peace of the last 76 years is historically an anomalous exception. One should not be afraid of values as such, but of political conflicts that can exploit these values. Russia needs modernisation, which, in turn, is impossible without interaction with Western societies. Just like 300 years ago, borrowing foreign experience and combining it with one’s own vision and strategic objectives can become the key to the country’s survival.

From our partner RIAC

Continue Reading

Russia

Russia’s “Ummah Pivot”: Opportunities & Narrative Engagement

Published

on

image source:syria.mil.ru

(This is the second and final part of the author’s article series on this topic. The first one can be read here, and it is recommended to review it before the present piece).

Russia’s “Ummah Pivot”, or its post-2014 comprehensive engagement with the many Muslim-majority countries along its southern periphery and beyond, comprises one of the most important pillars of its contemporary grand strategic balancing act between East and West. The Southern vector of its diplomacy prevents any zero-sum choice between East and West by presenting the Eurasian Great Power with a much-needed third option, which in turn can be leveraged to improve its negotiating potential with those aforementioned two regions of Eurasia. The first part of the article series elaborated on the geostrategic situation in North Africa, the Levant, the Gulf, the South Caucasus, Iran, Central Asia, and South Asia, while the present piece is more focused on Russia’s opportunities in these regions and narrative engagement with them. Although they can be read separately, it is recommended that they are reviewed together in order to obtain a better understanding of everything.

Russian Interests

North Africa: Becoming the Libyan Power Broker

In North Africa, Libya is the scene of intense competition between Turkey on the one hand and Russia, Egypt, the UAE, and France on the other. Russia must therefore seek a compromise solution that prevents either side from becoming dominant, with Russia playing the kingmaker role if possible (perhaps through a mix of creative diplomacy, energy partnerships and PMCs). The victory of either side over the other might unbalance the region, creating more opportunities for American or other meddling with unpredictable consequences. Libya is also the gateway to parts of West and Central Africa, so whoever fully controls it could expand more confidently into Africa with time, thus complicating Russian interests there too (which are beyond the scope of the present analysis despite some of the countries being Muslim-majority ones). If pressed to choose, Russia should side more with Egypt and the UAE, especially since the latter can open doors for Russia in other regions if their partnership reaches the strategic level through cooperation here and elsewhere.

Levant: Resolving the War in Syria

Russia must somehow resolve the Syrian dilemma, ideally by pairing an Iranian withdrawal with the nuclear deal, sanctions relief for Syria, and some form of decentralization that is acceptable to Damascus. Moscow must also ensure that Turkish influence is balanced by Emirati influence and that the Muslim Brotherhood is contained. In addition, comprehensively strengthening ties with Israel is a must, but Russia has to articulate the reasons behind this balanced policy to Arab civil society to avoid losing soft power by having its rivals (i.e. America) exploit the narrative void to portray Russia as “pro-Zionist”, etc. As for Iraqi Kurdistan, Russia has to maintain balanced influence there which does not infringe on its neighbors, all the while expanding its role over that region via its springboard of energy diplomacy. The Kurdish card can also help Russia balance those same countries, but it must be played very carefully to avoid possibly irreparable blowback to Russian interests.

The Gulf: Investing in Vision 2030 & Engaging with (South) Yemen

Unlike the other “Ummah Pivot” regions, Russia has no serious risks in the Gulf, but plenty of opportunities. It should continue its military and energy diplomacy with all partners to expand its influence over their elite. This can help open up real-sector economic opportunities related to Saudi Arabia’s ambitious Vision 2030 model of socio-economic development for example. Still, the UAE should be Russia’s priority partner because it is obviously more influential than Saudi Arabia is right now even if Riyadh commands more power over the global energy markets than Abu Dhabi does. Russia should seriously consider diplomatically involving itself more in resolving the long-running and highly disastrous war in Yemen by attempting to replicate its regrettably unsuccessful but nevertheless principled approach to the Syrian one by encouraging decentralization. This necessitates closer ties with the UAE and its South Yemeni partners, but must not be pursued too enthusiastically lest Saudi Arabia and Iran grow suspicious of Russia’s long-term strategic intentions.

South Caucasus: Managing the New Regional Reality

Russia’s interests here are three-fold and interlinked: it must manage Turkey’s growing influence over Azerbaijan, ensure Armenia’s compliance with last year’s ceasefire agreement mandating the unblocking of all regional economic and transport corridors, and effectively utilize the aforementioned to bring about tangible economic dividends related to improving trade with all concerned countries (most importantly Turkey and Iran). This requires a tricky diplomatic balancing act, but there are still certain reasons to be optimistic about its success. Azerbaijan seems increasingly conscious of Turkey’s creeping influence over it and might move closer to Russia in order to balance this. Armenia, while more nationalistic than ever, can’t realistically refuse to unblock the corridors in perpetuity, so eventually it’ll be compelled to comply. As for trade, Russian companies are already active in the South Caucasus and can expand their businesses into Turkey and Iran with time.

Iran: Bolstering the Islamic Republic’s Balancing Act

With or without resolving their strategic dilemma in Syria that was earlier explained, the future of the Russian-Iranian relations seems bright, but it mustn’t be overhyped due to the difficulties that Moscow might face in making significant economic inroads in the real-sector of Tehran’s economy given Beijing’s newfound role. Russia should work more closely with India by reviving the NSTC as soon as possible, though New Delhi might not be too interested unless Washington’s sanctions are eased or removed. This severely limits Russia’s economic diplomacy but does not outright exclude its possible effectiveness. Russia should seek to expand upon its existing strategic economic partnerships to reach new commercial and other ones, taking advantage of its closer location to Iran vis-a-vis China and realizing that it might take time for China to optimize its overland trade routes to the Islamic Republic via Central Asia and W-CPEC+.

Central Asia: Retaining Strategic Influence

Russia risks losing the most out of this portion of its “Ummah Pivot” given growing Chinese, Turkish, and perhaps soon even American influence through a variety of spheres as was previously explained. The most effective solution rests in more confidently engaging civil society to retain the appeal of Russian soft power, continue cultivating regional elite including through MGIMO’s new Tashkent branch campus, and relying upon military diplomacy related to countering Afghan-emanating threats to secure privileged economic partnerships in exchange. Cynically speaking, while Russia in no way supports growing Sinophobic sentiments in the region, this terrible trend helps keep Chinese influence in check to Russia’s benefit, though China’s said influence might then just as easily be replaced by Turkey’s, especially considering some locals’ recently revived interest in the brand of political Islam that Ankara unofficially exports. Russia might not be able to stop some loss of its influence, nor the gradual establishment of a larger Muslim bloc like was earlier discussed, but it can still manage this process if it better understands exactly what is happening and why.

South Asia: Containing Afghan Threats & Pioneering Trans-Regional Connectivity

The post-withdrawal scenario in Afghanistan is the greatest uncertainty in this region, as is the strategic significance of N-CPEC+/CEC, the latter of which can either strengthen Russia’s Greater Eurasian Partnership (GEP) vision and/or serve as an entry point for American balancing influence in Central Asia. Moscow must see to it that Afghanistan does not fester with ISIS threats that can subsequently spread throughout the broader region in parallel with maintaining a pragmatic balance between Islamabad and New Delhi. With the latter in mind, Russia should seek utilize its historic partnership with India to draw New Delhi further away from the Quad and therefore stabilize the strategic situation with all five related nuclear powers, though without compromising on its rapid rapprochement with Pakistan. Ideally, Russia will restore stability in this highly strategic space and tangibly profit from it through economic means, including new trade routes like N-CPEC+/CEC and the VCMC.

Narrative Engagement

North Africa: Keeping the Spotlight on Turkish Activity

Russia should emphasize the need for a pragmatic compromise to the Libyan Civil War, while also highlighting the trends of Arab unity and growing Turkish influence through political Islam. Egypt’s role should be afforded particular attention in order to improve Russia’s appeal in its society by showing its people that Moscow deeply respects their country’s regional power status. As for the Turkish dimension, it should be critical, but fair, though not propagandistic and overly anti-Turkish in order to avoid worsening very sensitive ties with Ankara. Another idea is to also talk about the UAE’s growing power as well, focusing on its extra-regional engagements in North Africa so as to provide positive informational support which enhances bilateral relations.

Levant: Articulating Russia’s Complex Balancing Act

Russia must urgently articulate the driving forces behind its multi-sided balancing act, especially with Israel, Turkey, and the Kurds, in order to dispel suspicions about its grand strategic intentions due to the visible narrative void that’s characterized the past few years as a result of lackluster efforts in this respect. When it comes to Syria, Russia must begin floating pragmatic compromise solutions to provoke wider discussion about them in order to discover whether they are acceptable for all stakeholders. As for Turkey, Russia did indeed unofficially legitimize its sphere of influence in Syria, but should begin talking more about how destabilizing it is become and how counterproductive Ankara’s unrealistically recalcitrant stance on compromising on President Assad’s political future is for the peace process. Concerning Iran, Russia should applaud its anti-terrorist contributions but consider highlighting its regionally destabilizing role vis-a-vis Israel, though in a sensitive and fair manner. Finally, the Kurdish card must be played very carefully because the risks might easily and far outweigh the rewards, but this outpost of Russian influence should not be forgotten either and should receive more attention when it comes to the Iraqi Kurdistan.

The Gulf: Encouraging the Region’s Socio-Economic Transformation

While appreciating the UAE’s aspiring regional hegemon status, Russia should be careful not to offend Saudi Arabia’s sensitivities. It should concentrate on multilateral security solutions, such as its existing Gulf one while pioneering a decentralized compromise solution to the war in Yemen. Furthermore, Russia should applaud MBS’ socio-economic reforms and begin engaging more closely with the country’s youthful society. Turkey’s military base in Qatar can largely be ignored for the time being since it does not do much, but if it becomes troublesome, Russia has to consider how to respond to it in the narrative sense, though once again without risking a worsening of very sensitive Russian-Turkish ties. Generally speaking, the Gulf should not present too many narrative challenges for Russia as the opportunities far outweigh the risks.

South Caucasus: Promoting Regional Reconciliation

Russia has to balance its sympathy for Armenia’s reactive nationalist outcry to losing last year’s war with its newfound partnership with victorious Azerbaijan. It also must gently encourage Armenia to abide by last year’s ceasefire agreement when it comes to unblocking all regional economic and transport corridors. The key challenge is how to respectfully respond to Turkish influence, especially if it becomes visibly pernicious. As a rule of thumb, being softer is better than being harder because of the sensitivities at play. More than that, Azerbaijan seems to naturally realize the risks of becoming too dependent on Turkey. Russian media possibly drawing attention to this too conspicuously might elicit a negative reaction though and make many suspect Moscow’s motives, though this might still be possible to strike a fair balance and/or employ other means to this end.

Iran: Recalibrating Russia’s Balancing Act

First and foremost, the strategic dilemma with Iran in Syria must be publicly clarified at the elite and civil society levels. Secondly, Russia has to re-engage Iran more enthusiastically than ever before, with or without the removal of U.S. sanctions. It also must bring India on board as well, taking advantage of recently troubled U.S.-Indian relations. Without India, Russia’s outreaches with Iran will remain limited, and Moscow will become a junior partner to Beijing. Speaking of which, the People’s Republic should not be criticized, but Russia can still gently and very generally speak about the risks of disproportionate dependence on any single partner. Iran must come to realize that Russia is an irreplaceable balancing partner for it, one which can fulfill a very strategic role, but it must also carry tangible economic and political benefits too.

Central Asia: Cultivating Regional Elite & Promote Secularism

More elite cultivation and media engagement is needed otherwise Russia will lose out to other powers in its own “backyard”. Russia should not ever support Sinophobia, but it could draw attention to some objective economic consequences of reportedly lopsided deals and their impact on the locals, though perhaps via indirect means to avoid angering China. Secularism must also be supported to counteract rising Islamist tendencies which could lay the seeds for non-state threats, especially via Western/U.S. and ISIS ideological infiltration of those societies. Those threats can be emphasized quite a lot to remind everyone of Russia’s stabilizing military role, which could in turn justify the privileged economic deals that it receives unlike some of those other countries’ partners in exchange for its indispensable security services.

South Asia: Pragmatically Engaging with the Taliban & Constructing a New Regional Paradigm

Engagement with Afghan society is extremely limited so Russia should concentrate on retaining cordial relations with Kabul while expanding pragmatic ties with the resurgent Taliban. It needs to formulate a narrative means through which the entrance of Russian mineral extraction companies won’t cause the same level of controversy as any of its competitors, especially Western and Chinese ones. It also needs to focus on the socio-economic benefits of N-CPEC+/CEC, especially with respect to how more Russian trade and investment can help the Afghan people. It could also, however, warn about the U.S. using N-CPEC+ as a Trojan Horse for slyly expanding influence there and beyond to reduce its appeal among the populace and preemptively thwart a prospective economic diplomacy plot. The historic partnership with India must be celebrated at every opportunity to continue courting it back to Russia’s side after recent years of allying with America. Russian experts can also take the lead in discussing pragmatic balancing solutions for the region’s nuclear powers, including Pakistan, while paying more attention to Pakistan’s legitimate interests so as to continue strengthening their ongoing rapprochement, perhaps by drawing more attention the strategic balancing motives behind their country’s CPEC+ vision.

From our partner RIAC

Continue Reading

Publications

Latest

Trending