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United States must rebalance its relationship with Russia

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Hours after signing an executive order, on April 15, 2021, which imposed sanctions on Russia, US President Joe Biden stated that the door for diplomacy and engagement with Moscow was far from closed.  Said the US President:

‘Throughout our long history of competition, our two countries have been able to find ways to manage tensions and to keep them from escalating out of control.’

Days before the imposition of sanctions, Biden had spoken to Russian President Vladimir Putin. During the conversation with Putin, Biden had indicated that he would be taking action against Russia for interference in the 2020 US Presidential election (a US intelligence report had pointed to Iranian and Russian meddling in the 2020 election), as well as cyber attacks against the US government. While emphatically stating that the US would firmly safeguard its interests and not refrain from strong retaliation in response to any provocative actions by Russia, Biden also proposed a summit with Putin in Europe.

Significantly during his conversation with Putin, Biden according to a White House release:

‘discussed a number of regional and global issues, including the intent of the United States and Russia to pursue a strategic stability dialogue on a range of arms control and emerging security issues, building on the extension of the New START Treaty.

Soon after the Biden administration had taken over it had been decided to extend the treaty which came into force on February 5, 2011 and would have ended February 5, 2021. The treaty limits the number of deployed strategic nuclear warheads to 1,550 and deployed missiles and bombers to 700 for each country.

Sanctions imposed by Biden Administration

The sanctions imposed by the Biden Administration on April 15thinclude; expulsion of 10 Russian diplomats stationed in Washington DC, sanctions on six Russian technology companies which allegedly provided support to Russian hacking operations during US elections, barring US financial institutions from participating in the primary market for rouble and non-rouble-denominated sovereign bonds, from June 14, 2021 and individuals and entities associated with Moscow’s actions in Crimea.

Significantly, Biden’s predecessor Trump had defended Russia against allegations of interference in the US Presidential election of 2016.

Russia’s response to US sanctions

Russia responded to the imposition of US sanctions by expelling US diplomats, imposed sanctions on 8 US officials, and would put an end to the activities of US NGOs  in Russia, since they interfered in Russia’s politics. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov warned the US that Moscow would be compelled to take strong measures against Washington, if the latter adopts a ‘confrontational course’.

US Sanctions measured

According to many observers, the sanctions imposed by the US on Russia were not particularly harsh and underscore the point, that the Biden Administration while seeking to sending out a strong message to Russia, also realizes that it can not permit the bilateral relationship to slide down any further for a myriad of reasons. First, US needs to cooperate with Russia on a number of global issues, such as jointly battling the covid 19 pandemic, confronting challenges posed by climate change, working together to resolve the Iran and North Korea issue.

Second, it needs to prevent Moscow from moving closer to Beijing. Last month after Biden’s strong attack on Putin, Foreign Ministers of Russia, Sergey Lavrov and China Wang Yi, had held a summit in China in March, days after Biden had attacked Russian President Vladimir Putin in an interview. The Russian Foreign Minister criticised US for its role in ‘underming the world order’ and both sides also proposed the need for reducing their dependence upon the US dollar.

An anonymous paper published by the Atlantic Council had emphasised on the need for a pragmatic policy vis-à-vis Russia, and also to prevent Moscow from moving closer to Beijing. Said the paper titled the Longer Telegram:

‘..United States must rebalance its relationship with Russia whether it likes it or not.. Allowing Russia to drift fully into China’s strategic embrace over the last decade will go down as the single greatest geostrategic error of successive US administrations’

Third, a number of US allies have strong ties with Moscow, and the US can not expect them to make clear choices (this is an important point made by a large number of US commentators)

In conclusion, Biden’s approach vis-à-vis Russia so far has been a blend of diplomacy and firm measures. His focus on dialogue and finding common ground on important bilateral security issues and global issues is significant. Washington while giving precedence to its own interests needs to adapt to the changing geopolitical situation especially the increasing proximity between Moscow and Beijing.

Tridivesh Singh Maini is a New Delhi based Policy Analyst associated with The Jindal School of International Affairs, OP Jindal Global University, Sonipat, India

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Biden’s Department of Justice: parents as domestic terrorists

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In recent developments in the United States, US Attorney General, Merrick Garland, and the FBI have put under the FBI radar parents as potential domestic terrorists. You heard it right. This is now a new formal legal policy contained in memos of the Department of Justice trying to reign in parents discussions on Biden’s new school curricula. They are not going after potential outbursts but outright terrorism. 

This is an attack on freedom of speech in the sense that parents have the right to discuss and disagree with the new Biden school curricula. This is where the issue originated: parts of Biden’s new school curricula are not accepted by many parents and if they disagree, the FBI treats them now as potential domestic terrorists as a matter of policy. Apart from a First Amendment case, this is also a case for international human rights law and I reported the development to the UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of speech this week hoping to get a statement.

The Department of Justice is referring to some constitutional provision on “intimidation of views” to override and take down one of the most firmly established rights, the right to freedom of speech, in quite frankly a ridiculous interpretation. Those parents that dare to speak up against controversial parts in the new text books could be investigated for domestic terrorism. This is the most incompetent interpretation on limitations of freedom of speech I have seen in awhile. 

Garland and the FBI have totally lost their marbles. The woke discussion is not funny to me anymore. It increasingly looks like a woke tyranny that has nothing to do with rights and equality anymore but simply serves as a vehicle to empower the FBI to run wild against regular people. This lunacy needs to be stopped.

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Iran poll contains different messages for Biden and Raisi

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“It’s the economy, stupid.” That is the message of a just-published survey of Iranian public opinion.

However, the substance of the message differs for newly elected hardline Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi and the Biden administration as Mr. Raisi toughens his negotiating position and the United States grapples with alternative ways of curbing the Islamic republic’s nuclear programme should the parties fail to agree on terms for the revival of the 2015 international agreement.

Iranians surveyed last month by Iran Poll and the University of Maryland’s Center for International and Security Studies were telling Mr. Raisi that they are looking to him to alleviate Iran’s economic and other problems and have little hope that a revived nuclear agreement will make the difference, given lack of trust in US and European compliance with any agreement reached.

The Iranians polled seemed in majority to endorse some form of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s notion of a “resistance economy” as a way of blunting the impact of the US sanctions imposed by former President Donald J. Trump after he walked away from the nuclear agreement in 2018. Some 65 per cent of the responders said they favoured a self-sufficient economy; 54.2 per cent expected the economy to at least improve somewhat in the next three years.

A large number expressed confidence that Mr. Raisi would significantly lower inflation and unemployment, increase Iran’s trade with other countries, control the pandemic and root out corruption.

Meanwhile, 63 per cent suggested that Iran’s economic situation would be the same, if not better, if there were no return to the agreement and the government continued to pursue a civil nuclear programme. The figure seemed at odds with the 80 per cent who said Iran’s economic situation would improve if Iran and the United States returned to the agreement and both fulfilled their obligations under the deal.

The divergence may be a function of the fact that the poll, unsurprisingly, indicated that Iranians (64.7 per cent) had little trust in the United States living up to its commitments even though they expected the Biden administration to return to the deal (57.9 per cent). As a result, 73.1 per cent of those surveyed said Iran should not make concessions given that world powers would not live up to commitments they make in return.

At the same time, 63 per cent blamed the troubled state of the economy on domestic mismanagement rather than US sanctions. Only 34.4 per cent believed that the sanctions were the main cause of their economic difficulty. Iranians pointing the finger at the government rather than external forces was also reflected in the 60.5 per cent of those polled blaming Iran’s water shortages on mismanagement and bad policies.

The poll suggested that by emphasising domestic mismanagement, Iranians were going to judge Mr. Raisi on his success or failure in countering the debilitating effect of the sanctions even though 77.5 per cent of those surveyed said that the sanctions had a negative or somewhat negative impact on the economy.

Implicitly, Iranians were holding former Iranian President Hassan Rouhani responsible for the mismanagement given that Mr. Raisi only took office in August. Rated very favourable by 61.2 per cent of Iranians surveyed in 2015, Mr. Rouhani’s favorability dropped to 4.6 per cent in the most recent poll. By contrast, the favourable views of Mr. Raisi soared from 38.3 per cent in 2014 to 77 per cent last month. IranPoll and the Center have been conducting annual of surveys since 2014.

Mr. Raisi may have taken pleasure from that but more importantly, the poll implicitly suggested that he does not have much time to produce results before his significant public support starts to wane.

Of those polled, 66.7 per cent expected Mr. Raisi to improve Iran’s international standing, 55.7 per cent said he would be in a better position to negotiate with world powers, and 45.2 per cent predicted that he would enhance Iran’s security. Those expectations may have been to some degree validated in the public’s mind by last month’s acceptance of Iran’s application for membership in the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) that groups China, Russia, India, Pakistan and several Central Asian states.

The survey results seemed to suggest that ordinary Iranians were framing their message to the United States differently from the assessment of prominent scholars and analysts. The divergence may well be one primarily of timing but nonetheless has implications for policymaking in Washington. The message of the respondents to the poll was one of immediate impact while analysts and scholars appear to be looking at the middle term.

Without referring to the poll, Vienna-based economist and strategic consultant Bijan Khajehpour argued this week, seemingly contrary to the poll, that “mismanagement and the Covid-19 pandemic have both contributed to Iran’s poor economic performance in recent years, but it remains that US sanctions…will be the key factor in determining Iran’s future prospects.”

Mr. Khajehpour went on to say that “high inflation, capital flight and the erosion of household purchasing power alongside mismanagement of resources and the deterioration of the country’s infrastructure have the potential to spark more protests and further undermine the already faltering legitimacy of the Islamic Republic in the eyes of the public.”

No doubt, the jury is out on how Iranians respond if and when Mr. Raisi fails to live up to their expectations. If the past is any indication, Iranians have repeatedly taken to the streets at often substantial risk to liberty and life to make their discontent with government performance evident as they did with the low turnout in this year’s election that brought Mr. Raisi to power.

The risk of renewed protests was reflected in the fact that responses to various questions regarding the electoral system, the limited number of presidential candidates (because many were barred from running), and the public health system showed that it was often a slim majority at best that expressed confidence in the system.

Add to that the fact that 68 per cent of respondents to the poll said that the objectives of past protests had been a demand that officials pay greater attention to people’s problems.

Yet, at the same time, they were telling the United States that its efforts to generate pressure on Iranian leaders to moderate their nuclear and regional policies by imposing harsh sanctions had for now backfired. Iranians were backing a tougher negotiating position by the Raisi government.

Ultimately that could be a double-edged sword for Mr. Raisi. He has to prove that he can be tough on the United States and simultaneously improve the lives of ordinary Iranians. Failure to do so could have in Mr. Khajehpour’s words “unpredictable consequences.”

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Gallup: World’s Approval of U.S. Govt. Restored to Obama’s Record High

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President Joseph R. Biden Jr. of the United States of America addresses the general debate of the UN General Assembly’s 76th session. UN Photo/Cia Pak

On October 19th, Gallup issued their “2021 Rating World Leaders” report and finds that “Six months into the first year of Joe Biden’s presidency, the image of U.S. leadership is largely restored in the world’s eyes. As of early August 2021, across 46 countries and territories, median approval of US leadership stood at 49%, matching the record high rating when former President Barack Obama first took office in 2009.”

Their year-by-year graph is shown of the global approval-ratings of the Governments of Germany, U.S., China, and Russia, by the populations of 44 countries, and of 2 territories (Hong Kong and Taiwan were included in their surveys because the U.S. Government wants to conquer both of those Chinese provinces, so as to weaken China). That chart clearly displays the following fact: thus far (six months into Biden’s Administration), the world viewed Biden as favorably as Obama, and far more favorably than Trump (even though Biden has been continuing almost all of Trump’s foreign policies). Apparently, the global public views Biden as being like Obama because his Party is the same as Obama’s, and his rhetoric also is similar. Though Trump’s international policies have been continued with little (if any) significant change under Biden, the world still has been viewing Biden as being like Obama (whom the world still views as having been the best world-leader during his Presidency), instead of like Trump (whom the world still views as having been the worst world-leader during his Presidency). Obama is still viewed far better than Trump, though (for example) two U.S-and-allied-banned news-sites had published, two days earlier, on the 17th, with full documentation, the major (but banned) news-report titled “First of over 200 bodies being exhumed from Lugansk mass grave. One of Obama’s atrocities.” It had been submitted to 200 news-media, and only those two published it.

Perhaps the world’s population is more swayed by rhetoric, and by Party-labels, than by a national leader’s actual policies (which, perhaps, they’ve not even known about — after all, how many know about those mass-graves?).

The Gallup surveys were done actually in 106 countries and in those two Chinese provinces that the U.S. Government wants to control, but “U.S. Leadership Approval” has, as-of yet, been calculated by Gallup only in these 46. Of the 108 total lands, 23 were in Africa, 38 in Europe (including Europe’s largest and most populous country, Russia), 30 in Asia, and 17 in “The Americas” (not including U.S., whose Government these surveys by Gallup have actually been designed to serve).

Remarkably, “While Germany and the U.S. had previously been vying for the top spot in the Americas, Germany’s leadership safely led the other countries in 2020, with a median approval rating of 50% in 2020. Russia earned higher approval ratings than China or the U.S., with a median approval rating of 41%. The U.S. and China earned similar, and far lower, approval ratings, of 34% and 32% respectively.”

Also: “Germany’s leadership continued to be the most popular in Europe, with a record-high median approval of 62% in 2020. China, Russia and the U.S. have all lost favor in Europe in recent years, and in 2020 they were all on equal footing, with approval ratings of around 20%.”

Furthermore, in Asia: “U.S. Leadership Image Still Mired at Record Lows” and these are lows that previously had been shown during the G.W. Bush and Trump Administrations; so, the U.S. Government’s rhetoric under Biden does not, at least yet, seem to be persuading Asians as much as was the case under Obama. Perhaps the Biden Administration will need to employ less-blatantly-hostile rhetoric against China than it has been using, in order to be able to get much support from Asians against China.

And, regarding Africa, “Ratings are not yet available” that are sufficient to determine whether or not, as has been shown since 2007, “the U.S. remained strongest worldwide in Africa,”or else changed up or down.

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