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, Turkey and the new geopolitical reality
The recent Russia – Turkey summit in Sochi, even though yielding no tangible outcomes (as became clear well before it, the summit would not result in the signing of any agreements), has evoked a lot of speculation – ranging from assumptions of the “failure” of talks to fairly optimistic forecasts for the future of bilateral relations.
What can be seen as a clear result of the meeting is that the two sides acknowledged readiness for further dialogue. A dialogue is vital also in view of the fact that western countries have been curtailing their military and political presence in the region, which has thus led to the formation of a terrorist state in Afghanistan.
According to Sergei Lavrov, terrorist threat persists and has even been intensifying in Idlib: «Terrorist groups operating from beyond the Idlib de-escalation zone continue to attack the positions of the Syrian army, what’s more, they have been trying to act against the Russian contingent», – the Russian foreign minister told a news conference following talks with his Egyptian counterpart, after the summit in Sochi. A solution to the problem lies, he said, in “complete implementation of the agreements signed by Presidents Putin and Erdogan to the effect that terrorists, first of all, from Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, should be isolated regardless of whatever new slogans they might come up with and for the purpose of quelling all these terrorist groups”.
As a final agreement on de-escalation in Idlib is expected to be reached, sources report a build-up of Syrian army forces along the Syrian side of the demarcation line, on the one hand, and a concentration of Turkish military groups, on the other (whereas after talks in Sochi the Turkish military started to retreat to the north – A.I.) Opposition representatives have been making aggressive statements again, even though in Sochi, Dmitry Peskov said, the two sides reiterated their “commitment to earlier agreements, underscored the need to implement these agreements by clearing Idlib of terrorist groups which were still there and which could pose a threat and launch a fierce attack against the Syrian army”.
Turkey keeps accusing Russia of breaching a ceasefire agreement for the northwest of Syria of March 5, 2020, while Russia maintains that Turkey is not acting on its commitments and that it is unable (or unwilling? – A.I.) to separate terrorists from armed opposition. For these mutual accusations the two presidents use politically correct statements, while their discontent over the situation is articulated by foreign ministers, press secretaries and MPs.
In brief, Moscow’s position is as follows: Bashar Assad is a legally elected head of the Syrian Arab Republic, the territorial integrity of which is beyond doubt. A compromise with Damascus calls for similar steps from the opponents, whereas confrontation in Idlib and in other hot spots across Syria should be the responsibility of countries whose troops are deployed there without the approval of the UN or without invitation from official Damascus. These countries are known – the United States and Turkey.
While Moscow and Ankara are often at odds over the Sunni opposition, their attitudes to Kurdish nationalists are less of a clash. Moscow sees them as “mere” separatists who “have not been lost” for Damascus, while Ankara describes them as terrorists that should be eliminated or neutralized by a buffer zone which Turkey has been building and strengthening for several years.
Some experts and politicians believe that this will last forever. In 1920, the already not quite Ottoman but not yet Turkish Parliament adopted the so-called National Vow, which specified that New Turkey would include Syrian and Iraqi territories, which currently border Turkey. Even though the move failed, the National Vow is still, if only unofficially, seen as a founding ideological document of the Turkish Republic, the implementation of which cements the authority of Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Moreover, areas occupied by the Turkish army (which make up more than 10% of the Syrian territory) are used for accommodating Syrian refugees, of which there are over three and a half million in Turkey proper. Turks’ growing discontent over the presence of such “guests” is adding to social instability. A new influx could trigger a public outcry in the run-up to parliamentary elections scheduled for 2023.
In all likelihood, Ankara believes that any serious concessions in Idlib will entail the collapse of the entire “buffer zone” project and will invalidate three military operations and the multimillion investments. In addition, it will bring back “the Kurdish issue”, destroy the image of Turkey as a trustworthy ally, and will inflict irreparable damage on the reputation of the incumbent authorities.
Nevertheless, Cumhuriyet observer Mehmet Ali Guller argues that Erdogan suggested readiness to make concessions when he said: «We agree that the time has come to secure a final and lasting solution to the Syrian issue. We announced that we are open for any realistic and fair steps in this direction».
From our point of view, there is nothing about “concessions” in what Erdogan says but what is clear is that he is, if only unwillingly, beginning to accept The Syrian reality. After years of demanding the removal of Bashar Assad, the Turkish leadership no longer issues statements to this effect, though it refuses to acknowledge the legitimacy of the incumbent regime (contacts at intelligence agency level do not count), promising to withdraw troops only after the establishment of “democratic rule” in Syria. But democracy as seen through the Middle East realities is something vague and unclear.
Furthermore, Erdogan is forced to “re-evaluate values” by a growing tension in relations with western allies. The Turkish president, after years of speaking strongly in favor of American presence in Syria, is now calling for the withdrawal of the American contingent from the country.
A consolidated position of Ankara’s western partners on Russia-Turkey relations was formulated by Die Zeit: during talks with the Russian leader in Sochi Erdogan played the role of a “requestor”, since he “missed a decisive factor – the West”, which he needs as “a critically important partner, which makes it possible for Ankara not to bow to Russia”. Turkey’s Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu did not agree to that: «We are a NATO member, on the one hand, but on the other hand, our relations with Russia are progressing…..Why should we make a choice [between them]?».
«It’s no secret that Ankara’s and Moscow’s interests in the region do not coincide…..[but] The positive responses of the two countries’ leaders on the results of talks in Sochi suggest that Moscow and Ankara are prepared to remove all misunderstandings by dialogue», – Ilyas Kemaloglu, political analyst with Marmara University, says. Haberturk Media Holding observer Cetiner Cetin argues that American troops’ “flight” from Afghanistan and their gradual departure from other regions is creating a new geopolitical reality, which means that “Turkey might continue to distance itself from NATO in order to find itself among top players within the Shanghai Cooperation Organization”.
While economic ties between Russia and Turkey are mostly problem-free, the political relations are often an issue. However, every time they meet, Putin and Erdogan manage not only to “quell” conflict, but to make a way for cooperation. The reason is that the two countries, despite their tactical differences, share the strategic goals: diktat of the West is unacceptable, the leading role in the East should belong to regional powers. As long as we share these goals, a Russia-Turkey alliance will be beneficial for both parties.
From our partner International Affairs
The 30th Anniversary of the Renewal of Diplomatic Relations Between Russia and Israel
Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation Sergey V. Lavrov’s article for the Israeli Newspaper “Yedioth Ahronoth” dedicated to the 30th Anniversary of the Renewal of Diplomatic Relations Between Russia and Israel, October 15, 2021.
On October 18, Russia and Israel celebrate the 30th anniversary of the renewal of full-fledged diplomatic relations – the beginning of a new era of common history.
Turning to the pages of the past, let me recall that the USSR was the first country to recognize de jure the State of Israel back in May 1948. Of course, there were ups and downs in the chronicle of our relationship. Today, it could be assessed with confidence that Russian-Israeli mutually beneficial cooperation has stood the test of time and continues to actively develop in all directions.
Its foundation is formed by an intensive political dialogue, foremost – at the highest level. Inter-parliamentary contacts are progressing, bolstered by Friendship Groups established in the legislative bodies of our countries. Inter-ministerial communications are carried out on a regular basis.
Over the past decades, a solid experience of diversified cooperation has been accumulated in such spheres as economics, science and technology, healthcare and education. More than twenty acting intergovernmental agreements reflect the richness of the bilateral agenda.
Our mutual practical cooperation has significant potential. A number of joint projects are being successfully implemented. Many initiatives have received the support of the President of the Russian Federation and the Prime Minister of the State of Israel. The interest of Israeli business circles in entering the Russian market continues to grow. Despite the consequences of the coronavirus pandemic, by the end of 2020 trade between Russia and Israel decreased by only 3.9%, and in January-July this year it increased by 51.8% over the previous year’s period. The key coordinating mission in these common efforts is fulfilled by the Joint Russian-Israeli Commission for Trade and Economic Cooperation, founded in 1994. We are interested in the early resumption of its work in full.
A special role in strengthening the unifying baselines of our relations as well as ensuring their stability and continuity belongs to humanitarian contacts. We appreciate the high level of mutual understanding between the peoples of Russia and Israel, connected by a common historical memory and convergence of cultures. It is encouraging that this thread, which has no geographic boundaries, is only getting stronger in course of time.
There are millions of Russian-speaking compatriots living in Israel, including descendants both from the former Republics of the USSR and from the Russian Federation. Veterans of the Great Patriotic War, survivors of the siege, former prisoners of concentration camps are among them. The fate of these people is of major interest to us.
Most vigorous rejection of the attempts of historical revisionism, combatting the distortion of the genesis, course and generally recognized international legal outcomes of the World War II have always united Russia and Israel. We will continue to coordinate our efforts, and specifically at the UN, to counter this shameful phenomenon.
While in some countries of Central and Eastern Europe Nazi henchmen are being brought to the level of national heroes and neo-Nazi tendencies are being revived, the memory of the decisive contribution of the heroic soldiers of the Red Army to the Victory over Nazism, the saving of Jews and other peoples from extermination, the liberation of the world from the horrors of the Holocaust is sacred in Israel. We see how Israeli colleagues – at the state and public levels – encourage the activities of the veterans and compatriots movements, conduct active work to educate the younger generation.
It is difficult to overestimate the significance of the law on Celebrating the Victory Day over Nazi Germany on May 9, approved by the Israeli parliament in 2017. It is particularly telling that on the 76th anniversary of the Great Victory, celebrated this year, festive events and commemorative parades along with the Immortal Regiment march were held in more than 45 Israeli cities. Thousands of Israelis of all ages as well as officials participated. This scale speaks for itself.
Cooperation in the field of education and science – whether through student and academic exchanges or joint scientific research continues to move forward. Every year, students from Israel get an opportunity to receive higher education in Russian universities. All of them are sincerely welcome there.
We hope that it will be possible to restore mutual tourist flows as soon as the sanitary and epidemiological situation improves. Russia is traditionally one of the top three countries in terms of the number of visitors to Israel.
The Russian-Israeli dialogue is vigorously advancing through the foreign ministries. It is obvious that without constructive interaction of diplomats it is impossible to solve a number of international and regional problems that are of paramount importance both for ensuring the prosperous future of the peoples of Russia and Israel just as for strengthening international and regional security and stability. From this perspective, diversified contacts between the Security Councils and the defense ministries of our countries have also proven themselves well. On a regular basis it allows us to compare approaches and take into account each other’s legitimate interests.
Russia is pursuing an independent multi-vector foreign policy, contemplating pragmatism, the search for compromises and the observance of balances of interests. Creation of the most favorable external conditions for our internal socio-economic development remains its backbone. We have no ideological likes and dislikes, or any taboos in relations with our foreign partners, therefore we can play an active role in the international arena and specifically through mediation in the settlement of conflicts.
We are interested in continuing consultations with our Israeli partners on security and stability issues in the Middle East. We always draw attention to the fact that comprehensive solutions to the problems of the region must necessarily take into account the security interests of Israel. This is a matter of principle.
At the same time, we are convinced that there is no alternative to the two-state solution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict on a generally recognized international legal basis. We strongly support direct negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians. A comprehensive solution to all issues of the final status is possible only through it. We are ready to work with Israeli colleagues, including multilateral formats, primarily in the context of the renewal of work of the Middle East Quartet of international mediators in close cooperation with representatives of the Arab League.
I am convinced: it is in the common interest to maintain the momentum. Ahead of us are new milestones and additional opportunities not only to continue, but also to enrich the positive experience of multifaceted cooperation for the benefit of our states and peoples, in the interests of peace and stability.
Source: Minister of Foreign Affairs
The Emerging “Eastern Axis” and the Future of JCPOA
Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesperson, Saeed Khatibzadeh recently said that Tehran would further strengthen its ties with Moscow via a strategic partnership. Said Khatibzadeh ‘The initial arrangements of this document, entitled the Global Agreement for Cooperation between Iran and Russia, have been concluded’
This agreement will be similar in nature to the agreement signed by Iran with China in March 2021, dubbed as the strategic cooperation pact, which sought to enhance economic and strategic relations (China would invest 400 Billion USD in infrastructure and oil and gas sector while also strengthening security ties). Commenting on the same, Khatibzadeh also said that an ‘Eastern axis’ is emerging between Russia, Iran and China.
Closer ties with Russia are important from an economic, strategic point of view, and also to reduce Iran’s dependence upon China (many including Iran’s Foreign Minister had been critical of the 25 year agreement saying that it lacked transparency). Iranian Foreign Minister, Hossein Amir-Abdollahian on the eve of his Russia visit from October 5-6th, 2021 also stated that Iran while strengthening ties would not want to be excessively dependent upon either country.
Iranian Foreign Minister’s visit to Russia
Iranian Foreign Minister, Hossein Amirabdollahian during his Russia visit discussed a host of issues with his Russian counterpart, Sergey Lavrov including the current situation in Afghanistan, South Caucasus, Syria and the resumption of the Vienna negotiations.
Russia and Iran have been working closely on Afghanistan (on October 20, 2021 Russia is hosting talks involving China, India, Iran and Pakistan with the Taliban).
It is also important to bear in mind, that both Russia and Iran have flagged the non-inclusive nature of the Taliban Interim government. Russia has in fact categorically stated that recognition of Taliban was not on the table. Said the Russian Foreign Minister, Sergey Lavrov on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly, ‘the whole gamut of Afghan society — ethno-religious and political forces — so we are engaging in contacts, they are ongoing.’
China’s approach vis-à-vis Afghanistan
Here it would be pertinent to point out, that China’s stance vis-à-vis Afghanistan is not identical to that of Moscow and Tehran. Beijing while putting forward its concerns vis-à-vis the use of Afghan territory for terrorism and support to Uyghur separatist group East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM), has repeatedly said that there should be no external interference, and that Afghanistan should be allowed to decide its future course. China has also spoken in favor of removal of sanctions against the Taliban, and also freeing the reserves of the Afghan Central Bank (estimated at well over 9 Billion USD), which had been frozen by the US after the takeover of Afghanistan by the Taliban.
If one were to look at the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action JCPOA/Iran Nuclear deal, Russia has been urging Iran to get back to the Vienna negotiations on the one hand (these negotiations have been on hold since June), while also asking the US to return to its commitments, it had made under the JCPOA, and also put an end to restriction on Iran and its trading partners.
Conversation between US Secretary of State and Russian Foreign Minister
The important role of Russia is reiterated by the conversation between US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken with Russian Foreign Minister. Angela Merkel during her visit to Israel also made an important point that both China and Russia had an important role to play as far as getting Iran back on JCPOA is concerned. What is also interesting is that US has provided a waiver to the company building the Nord Stream 2 pipeline connecting Russia and Germany. The US has opposed the project, but the Department of State said waiving these sanctions was in US national interest. Both Germany and Russia welcomed this decision.
In conclusion, while there is no doubt that Russia may have moved closer to China in recent years, its stance on Afghanistan as well as it’s important role in the context of resumption of Vienna negotiations highlight the fact that Moscow is not keen to play second fiddle to Beijing. The Biden Administration in spite of its differences has been engaging closely with Moscow (a number of US analysts have been arguing for Washington to adopt a pragmatic approach vis-à-vis Russia and to avoid hyphenating Moscow with Beijing). In the given geopolitical landscape, Washington would not be particularly averse to Tehran moving closer to Russia. While the Iranian spokesperson, Saeed Khatibzadeh spoke about a Eastern axis emerging between Moscow, Tehran and Beijing, it would be pertinent to point out, that there are differences on a number of issues between Moscow and Beijing. The Russia-Iran relationship as well as US engagement with Russia on a number of important geopolitical issues underscores the pitfalls of viewing geopolitics from simplistic binaries.
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