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Eastern Europe

Ukraine’s Chance for Rational Behaviour

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From the point of view of international politics, the most important thing in the recently-published article by the President of Russia on the Ukrainian issue is the indication that Russia continues to supports the sovereignty of this country if it reflects its genuine ability to maintain an independent foreign policy. It cannot be otherwise — Ukraine and Russia share a common geopolitical space, and Moscow is the strongest player.

Therefore, the logic of the Russian leader is quite simple and should be intelligible, since it addresses the ability of a neighbouring country to behave rationally. Russia is directly indicating (as it had not always done before) that a neighbouring country is expected to behave adequately in its position and understand that it is very dangerous to ignore Russian security interests. Notably, this is a serious departure from domestic foreign policy tradition, wherein Russia usually indicates its interests indirectly.

In this case, Moscow is trying to show how predictable its policy is and what the main motives are.

However, when trying to discuss reasons whether or not other states understand this, we cannot ignore the fact that rational behaviour is not always characteristic of nations during moments when they are deeply mired in internal crises. Moreover, historical experience can also be the basis for actions that are irrational or even suicidal from the point of view of formal logic and the laws of international relations. An example of irrational behaviour was the activity of the Soviet leadership in the late 1980s, when it dismantled all the power advantages it possessed in relations with Western countries. This was due to an exceptionally severe internal crisis, during which the Soviet system forced people to turn to myths, not reality.

Historical experience is no less important — Ukraine, like a number of other countries, has been part of a single political space with Russia. Moreover, in this case Russia did not play the role of a metropole in its pure form — Ukrainians have occupied leadership positions in the Russian elite since the middle of the 18th century. During the Soviet era, this republic was in a very special position — it was where most of the opportunities for economic development were concentrated; executives from Ukraine, along with Russians, occupied leading positions in other Soviet republics. Such historical experience significantly limits the ability of Ukrainian citizens to adequately assess their place on the map and in the balance of power next to Russia.

Now, 30 years after the disappearance of the USSR, all newly independent states, without exception, are at a stage when their behaviour towards Russia must become responsible, corresponding to real sovereignty. This, as we can see, is hindered by historical experience. In some cases, it manifests itself through the significant presence of national diasporas in Russia, in others — through rent-seeking behaviour, and most difficultly — through the perception of Russia as a metropole. At the same time, all three of these negative aspects of the region’s shared experience are supported by an objective balance of forces and presence in the common geopolitical space. However, Russia is no longer a metropole and policy towards it should be formed on the basis of the understanding that it is a different state from the Soviet Union, but at the same time the most powerful state to emerge from it.

How much can Russia itself contribute to such a change? First, this will really only happen as the political generations change in Russia, when more pragmatic politicians from the different nations of the region come to replace those who grew up together in the Soviet Union. Russia’s neighbours quite often turn to the question of how this change in generations affects their attitude. But at the same time, we cannot forget that the significance of a similar process in Russia itself is more important, given its power capabilities. Vladimir Putin’s article attaches such great importance to the common historical experience of Russia and Ukraine because it is important for him personally. But those who were just starting their lives at the time of the collapse of the USSR are hardly likely to see things the same way. To sum up, as long as the aggregate power capabilities of Russia are maintained, our neighbours can expect unpleasant news.

Second, Russian foreign policy towards Ukraine and other neighbours will gradually shed its ethical, fraternal component, derived from the perception of “our” neighbours as “our people.” As you know, “the Russians do not leave theirs behind”.

This means that Russia may begin to lose its motivation to fight to maintain order in the surrounding areas.

This could potentially contribute to Russia’s neighbours beginning to see it simply as the most powerful neighbour, whose capabilities have no alternative.

Third, Russian policy towards its neighbours should be more demanding precisely so that the situation does not go as far as it happened with Ukraine. So far, we see only signs of movement in this direction, however, if we look at a 10-15 year timeline, the disciplining effect may turn out to be more significant. This, of course, depends on how chaotic the international environment of our common space becomes. Now, most of the signs indicate that none of the significant world powers is ready to take on a large share of responsibility for the fate of the countries of Central Asia or the Caucasus.

In general, Vladimir Putin’s article on Russian-Ukrainian relations equally reflects both objective and subjective components of Russia’s interaction with practically all countries of the former Soviet Union. Even the Baltic states cannot be an exception in the full sense of the word — they are still connected with Russia in the power field, although soon after gaining independence they entered another institutional jurisdiction. Moreover, economically, these three countries are significantly connected with the huge Russian market in the east.

The subjective factor in relations is the historical experience; most of the article of the Russian head of state concerns this aspect. In the case of Ukraine, it is the lengthiest, and therefore very difficult to overcome.

The argument in the concluding part of the President’s article deals with objectivity and geopolitical conditions. The presence of the former can interfere with the perception of the latter — the logic of the usual interaction of powers in accordance with their power potential is hardly linked with the recognition of the special nature of relations that has been formed over several centuries.

We cannot say now how fatal the inability to overcome this contradiction may prove to be in the coming years — it is possible that the result will indeed be the disappearance of the Ukrainian state, even in the form we have become accustomed to seeing.

Given that Russia would be interested in its preservation, the matter may be about a problem so fundamental that it is necessary to recognise the inevitability of its consequences. Also, taking into account the general context, it is necessary to understand the potential impact of the unresolved Ukrainian issue on European security as a whole. In the spring of 2021, we saw how high international tension could become.

In any case, the Ukrainian issue, in its modern, post-independence incarnation, provides a very good lesson to learn from, both for Russia and for all the surrounding states.

From our partner RIAC

PhD in Political Science, Programme Director of the Valdai Discussion Club; Academic supervisor of the Center for Comprehensive European and International Studies, HSE University, RIAC Member

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Eastern Europe

The Stewards of Hate

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A big bear is rattling the open door of his cage.  He cannot abide a NATO spear in his belly.  Hence Valdimir Putin’s demand for Ukraine to remain out of it, and for the military alliance to stop its advance into eastern Europe.

For 72 years until 1991, Ukraine was a republic of the Soviet Union, and before that for centuries an oblast of the Imperial Russian empire.  In 1939, parts belonging to Poland were annexed.

It was during the breakup of Russia following an independence referendum that Ukraine opted to separate.  But NATO is another story.  After the dissolution of the Warsaw Pact (NATO’s eastern counterpart), Russia had expected the West to do the same.  Instead, NATO became a US fig leaf for its wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.  Apparently, everyone in the world saw through this — except the US — as it embroiled itself in both countries, and the bill for the misadventures rocketed from $80 billion to an estimated $5 trillion.

The EU, a path to riches for East Europeans, is a Ukrainian dream, and Russian troops the reality when they wake up.  Such are the facts, no matter how much the Ukrainians are trying to ignore them. 

If the powerful Russian bear is the Ukrainian bete noire, its polar opposite is the case in India.  A powerful Hindutva movement abhors the Muslim minority.  It blames them for India’s problems, very much akin to the situation for Jews in pre-WW2 Germany.  Not unsurprisingly given the roots of the RSS, which modeled itself after the Nazis, instituting uniforms and drills.  A former member assassinated Gandhi for being too soft on Muslims.  Post independence, the RSS was banned by India’s first government which was led by Jawaharlal Nehru, a secular socialist.

The current prime minister, Narendra Modi, is a former RSS pracharak —  that is an active member who devotes himself full time to promoting RSS doctrine and, like a missionary, in seeking new members.  As an ambitious politician, he shed RSS ties when he entered politics and as leader expresses the wish for unity — sentiments not shared by his BHP colleagues.

There is the yogi elected chief minister of India’s largest state, and his undisguised derogatory opinions of Muslims.  Worse, at a political event at the end of December, leaders called openly for the killing of Muslims, and India’s leaders kept silent.  After general social media outrage at the speeches, the police  finally registered a case against some of the speakers for ‘promoting hatred between religious groups.’

Videos show many of the speakers are prominent religious leaders often present with senior ministers in the BJP government.  Imagine, calling for genocide in 2021.  The world reacted to the effort to eliminate Tutsis in Rwanda where it also began with reviling and dehumanization.  Genocide and even incitement to genocide is a crime.  Hence the prosecutions.  Incitement to genocide is recognized as a separate crime under international law and an inchoate crime which does not require genocide to have taken place to be prosecutable.

The founders of post-independence India, Gandhi and Nehru who took pride in being secular, must be in agony over international outlaws wanting to become the stewards of their child.

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Eastern Europe

Lithuania is left in the dust

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The nearly completed Nord Stream 2 is again in focus. It has become known that the U.S. Senate on January 13 failed to pass a bill to slap sanctions on Russia’s Nord Stream 2 natural gas pipeline sponsored by Republican Senator Ted Cruz. The tally was 55 in favor and 44 against the bill that needed 60 votes to pass. Those who voted against his bill said it risked breaking unity in Washington and in Europe. U.S. senators said also Cruz sanctions on Nord Stream 2 could harm relations with Germany which is very important for the U.S. foreign policy and economy.

Top Ukrainian officials, as well as Lithuanian government supported Cruz’s bill, arguing the United States should do everything in its power to halt the pipeline project.

The link is designed to export gas from Russia directly to Germany by bypassing Ukraine, through which Russia has sent gas to Europe for decades. That would deprive Ukraine of lucrative transit fees and potentially undermine its struggle against alleged Russian aggression. The decision will allow the completion of the gas pipeline to Europe without the imposition of further US sanctions. Earlier Lithuanian Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis said that the a deal between the United States and Germany on the Nord Stream 2 pipeline was a “mistake”. It is interesting that the vote came as U.S. and European officials held high-level talks with their Russian counterparts. It is quite possible that the decision about Nord Stream 2 pipeline was the result of these negotiations.

This fact has sparked anger and has become great political disappointment for the Lithuanian officials who view the project as a security threat.

Lithuania, positioning itself as the main Ukraine’s patron in Europe, is confused with such U.S. decision. Lithuania promotes the U.S. interests and support all American initiatives even to the detriment of its own interests. Only this month Lithuania took a number of steps to prove its commitment to US policy. Lithuania even has dared to challenge China, one the main US strategic competitors. It continues to spend millions of dollars on military purchases from the U.S. using the narrative of “the threat from the East”. In December Lithuania signed an agreement with the U.S. to improve military interoperability.

The more so, the Lithuanian government has decided to accelerate its planned purchase of a multiple launch rocket system (MLRS) amid Russia’s military buildup on its border with Ukraine. The decision to buy US’ Lockheed Martin system in 2026, two years earlier than Vilnius previously planned.

The country also regularly holds political consultations with the U.S. officials to coordinate its further actions. But the U.S. in its turn does not pay attention to Lithuania’s opinion and makes decision in its favour.

Lithuanian government should gain Lithuanians’ support and pay attention to their needs. The matter is discontent in Lithuanian society is growing every day. Thus, on January 13, the usual commemoration of Freedom Defenders saw loud booing and heckles from the crowd of protesters who called on the government (and the parliament) to resign.

It is obviously that the threat from the East is not so real as threat to be fired due to loss of confidence in near future.

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Eastern Europe

Rebuilding of Karabakh: Results of 2021

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Image source: azerfocus.com

The restoration work in Karabakh entered the active phase in 2021 as several projects had been completed and the foundations for new ones were laid down. The restoration process in Karabakh started right after the November 10th declaration that ended the 44-Day War between Armenia and Azerbaijan. After the war, Azerbaijan liberated its territories that constituted about 20% of the total territory of Azerbaijan and were occupied by Armenian forces in the early 90s.

During the occupation, about thirty years, Karabakh was subject to ruthless destruction and looting by the occupants. As a result, most of the social infrastructure, including residential buildings, schools, and hospitals, were totally destroyed, and most parts of the occupied territories were left empty. Despite the fact that the total destruction in Karabakh makes the restoration process complex and time-consuming, Azerbaijan immediately started the restoration process. For this purpose, the plan for socio-economic development of the liberated territories was prepared, and for the implementation of this plan, “Coordination Headquarters” and 17 working groups on different areas were established. In 2021, $2.2 billion was allocated from the state budget for the restoration process. The same amount of funds is planned to be directed to the restoration process in 2022 as well. The allocation of the necessary financial resources and the establishment of the state bodies for the efficient organization of the recovery process led to the rapid implementation of projects in 2021.

The most notable project that was almost completed in 2021 was the Fuzuli International Airport. The inauguration of the airport took place in Azerbaijan’s liberated city of Fuzuli in Karabakh on October 26. It was the first airport built by Azerbaijan in the liberated areas, and its construction took only eight months. It was built in accordance with the highest international standards, which enables it to accommodate any type of aircraft. A runway with a length of 3000 meters and a width of 60 meters has been put into operation at the airport. The first test flight to Fuzuli International Airport was performed on September 5, 2021, when the largest passenger aircraft of Azerbaijan Airlines, named Karabakh, landed at the airport. Because of its location, the new airport is considered as an “air gate of Karabakh”. Along with Fuzuli airport, the foundations of the other two airports in Lachin and Zangilan districts were also laid down in 2021.

The year 2021 was also marked by the establishment of the Horadiz-Jabrayil-Zangilan-Agband highway. The foundation of this road was laid on October 26, with the participation of the leaders of Azerbaijan and Turkey. With a length of 124 km, it is part of the Zangezur Corridor, the establishment of which was envisioned in the November 10 declaration. The Zangezur Corridor is a very important project that is going to change the transportation architecture of the South Caucasus and its neighborhood. Its proximity to the Karabakh and connection to the main roads in the region will accelerate the restoration and development of the Karabakh.

Within the framework of the restoration process, another important event in 2021 was the foundation of the first “smart village” in Agali village in the Zangilan district on April 26. As of October, the construction work on more than 110 hectares in Agali village was underway. It includes the construction of 200 ecological houses, 4 non-residential buildings, a smart school for about 360 students, and a kindergarten for 60 children. Work on establishing smart agricultural infrastructure on approximately 600 hectares of land is also ongoing. According to the restoration program, it is planned to re-establish cities and villages in the liberated territories based on the “smart city” and “smart village” concepts. Thus, after the Agali village, this concept will be implemented in other areas of Karabakh.

In 2021, the highway that connects the Fuzuli and Shusha cities was also opened. As this highway passes through the territory that was used to liberate Shusha city, it has a symbolic meaning for Azerbaijan, and therefore it is named “The Road to Victory.” The Fuzuli-Shusha highway is part of the Ahmadbeyli-Fuzuli-Shusha highway, one of the main highways in Karabakh. It is 101.5 km in length and reduces the distance from the capital Baku to Shusha to about 363 km. The foundation of another important transport project, the Horadiz–Agband railway, was also laid in 2021 and its construction continues. This railway is 100 kilometers long and has strategic importance as it will connect the mainland of Azerbaijan with Nakhchivan, Azerbaijan’s landlocked exclave, through the Zangezur corridor.

Along with the mentioned roads, the opening ceremony of the 28-kilometer highway that connects the city of Tartar with the villages of Sugovushan and Talish took place in 2021. The length of this road is 28 kilometers, and as planned, the extension of this project will include 22 kilometers of highway from Talish to Naftalan. Construction and planning work on various transportation projects such as the Barda–Aghdam railroad, the Fuzuli-Shusa railway, and the Toganal-Kalbacar highway were also continued.

Comprehensive works in the energy sector were also carried out within the framework of the restoration program, based on the strategy for transforming the liberated territories into “green energy” zones and connecting the energy infrastructure in those territories to Azerbaijan’s general energy system. In 2021, with a total capacity of 20 megawatts, “Gulabird”, “Sugovushan-1” and “Sugovushan-2” small hydroelectric power stations (HPS) were reconstructed and put into operation in the liberated territories. In total, nine digital substations were built in the Karabakh and East Zangezur regions. Simultaneously, in the Aghdam and Jabrail regions, the construction of “Aghdam-1,” “Aghdam-2,” and “Jabrayil” substations as well as the Karabakh Regional Digital Management Center has been completed.

The other important project in the energy sector was the foundation of the Digital Station Management Center in Fuzuli. This project, implemented for the first time in the South Caucasus, allows through automation to reduce the impact of the human factor on the operation of the network, increase reliability and reduce losses during the transmission of electricity. All these projects in the energy sector serve to maintain the energy security in liberated territories and to transform these territories into “green energy” zone.

All the mentioned projects show that Azerbaijan has actively worked for rebuilding Karabakh in 2021. It will enable Azerbaijan to fully integrate the Karabakh economy into the Azerbaijan economy and to use its economic potential in upcoming years. As the liberated territories have great potential in sectors such as agriculture and energy, it will also positively affect the development of the non-oil sector in Azerbaijan. Implementation of all projects that were started in 2021 will not only contribute to the economic development of Azerbaijan, but will also transport Azerbaijan and Karabakh to the transport and economic center of the region.

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