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India – Pakistan and Russia – Ukraine: What if We Compare the Two?

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India and Russia are two great powers on the Eurasian continent, and it is for a good reason that they both claim a proactive role in establishing a new order on the continent as well as globally. The two countries epitomize entire civilizations as each can rightly be proud of their amazing history and rich culture. At the same time, Russia and India face rather daunting challenges in effecting modernization, both socially and economically. Both Moscow and New Delhi attach great importance to national sovereignty, and they do not take well to external attempts to interfere in their domestic affairs. Besides, both have to cope with powerful geopolitical competition that outstrip them in many ways – India’s rival is China, and Russia’s is the United States.

Alongside everything else, Russia and India face fundamental problems in cultivating relations in their neighborhoods, which complicates the stances Moscow and New Delhi take on the international stage all the more, diverting attention and resources as well as preventing them from settling into the global international community firm and steady. Pakistan has been a thorn in India’s side for a long time, while Ukraine has recently played a similar role for Russia. How far can we draw parallels between the India–Pakistan and Russia–Ukraine stand-offs? Are there any reasonable grounds to talk about any typological similarities of the two extremely difficult situations in two regions that are so contrasting? Is it appropriate to explore common or parallel options for resolving the two issues?

Let us start with the obvious. Each pair (India–Pakistan and Russia–Ukraine) is made up of societies that share a number of common characteristics. At some point, each belonged to a single economic, sociocultural and administrative space. The partition of the British Raj into to the Dominion of India and the Dominion of Pakistan in August 1947 brought about fratricidal conflicts that claimed the lives of some million people, leading to the migration of millions, which affected South Asia on a larger scale. For centuries, Russia and Ukraine formed the core of the Russian Empire, and later that of the Soviet Union. While the collapse of the Soviet Union did not result in a direct military conflict between Moscow and Kiev, it was nevertheless extremely painful for Russia and Ukraine, also triggering significant migration flows.

It is precisely the closeness of the “cultural and historical codes” of the two pairs of nations that bread the desire of the new political elites in Pakistan and Ukraine to distance themselves from their larger neighbours as much as possible. The problem is that they did not have a history of independent statehood from which to draw. Pakistan’s identity was built on a consistent opposition to its Indian neighbour. Ukraine took a similar path already in its early years, which can be evidenced by a book published in 2003 by the country’s second president, Leonid Kuchma, under the title of Ukraine is not Russia. For Pakistan, the first marker of “otherness” was religion. For Ukraine, it is the language that has gradually moved to the fore: a consistent, if not entirely successful, “Ukrainianization” was complemented by claims to the autocephaly of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine following 25 years into the country’s independence.

Notably, India and Russia tend to treat Pakistan and Ukraine as artificial constructions that arose as an accidental coincidence of political circumstances, with no obvious prospects in the long run. “Few” has never been the number of doom-laden forecasts presented in New Delhi and Moscow, assuming the inevitable disintegration of their neighbors into separate regions or their eventual transformation into “failed states.” However, despite the numerous domestic crises and external pressures, both Pakistan and Ukraine have demonstrated a high degree of resilience. For example, Pakistan, even with its fragility and a relatively inefficient public administration, has already existed longer than the Soviet Union. Although it did lose its eastern provinces back in 1971, which would later become the independent state of Bangladesh.

Besides, potentials of the legs in both pairs are obviously asymmetric. India is far larger, richer and stronger than Pakistan, while the same is true for Russia vis-a-vis Ukraine. That said, neither Pakistan nor Ukraine is so weak that India or Russia could ignore or manipulate their neighbour with impunity. For India, Pakistan is much more important than, say, the neighboring Sri Lanka, where New Delhi also faces numerous challenges in sustaining bilateral ties. Similarly, Ukraine is far more important for Russia than all the three Baltic states combined. While neither Pakistan nor Ukraine is currently able to act as an alternative agent of integration processes in South Asia or across the post-Soviet space, they are more than capable of playing the spoiler in any multilateral projects of integration that may emerge in the regions.

The general pattern of relations in the two pairs is somewhat different: hostilities between India and Pakistan arose almost immediately in the wake of the two countries gaining independence, whereas the tensions between Russia and Ukraine manifested themselves gradually. Unlike India and Pakistan, Russia and Ukraine were able to avoid slipping into a large-scale military face-off, although Kiev believes today Russia to be an “aggressor country”. At the same time, though, both India and Pakistan are nuclear-weapon states, meaning that neither country is particularly interested in a direct military showdown. Ukraine abandoned Soviet nuclear weapons back in the 1990s, and the nuclear factor does not apply to the Russia–Ukraine relations. In any case, opinion polls are invariable in their demonstration of persistent anti-Indian sentiments amid the public in Pakistan and anti-Russian attitudes in the minds of Ukrainians.

There is a territorial element both to India–Pakistan and Russia–Ukraine relations. Certainly, to compare Kashmir and Crimea would be somewhat problematic, as the two regions have very different pasts, while the make-up and self-identification of their respective populations are in no way similar, and the features of their current international legal status do not coincide. All that notwithstanding, there are some parallels to be found. New Delhi still insists that the Kashmir conflict is no international matter and focuses on the narrative of “cross-border terrorism” emanating from Pakistan. Similarly, Moscow refuses to talk to Kiev about Crimea, declaring the issue closed once and for all. However, neither Islamabad nor Kiev is ready to drop their territorial claims any time soon, with any possible rapprochement with India and Russia hinging on the progress in this area. The biggest difference between Pakistan and Ukraine is that Pakistan insists on a referendum in Kashmir (hoping that the Muslim population in the region will favor reunification with Pakistan), while Ukraine is reluctant to see a referendum in Crimea (citing the fact that the country’s constitution does not provide for this but also because the official Kiev may not like the outcome of such a referendum).

Finally, it is worth noting that the India–Pakistan and Russia–Ukraine links are open rather than closed systems. The weaker members of these pairs are attempting to correct the unfavorable balance of power by internationalizing the conflict as much as possible. In its standoff with India, Pakistan has traditionally relied on the support of the United States and, more recently, China. Meanwhile, Ukraine has managed to transform its conflict with Russia into a conflict between Russia and the “collective West.” Internationalization drives up the costs of conflict for the stronger party, pushing hopes for a “final victory” into the distance. This explains why New Delhi and Moscow seek to limit their relations with Islamabad and Kiev to preserving the status quo and minimizing the threat of escalation.

What does this mean for the future of India–Pakistan and Russia–Ukraine relations? First of all, we need to acknowledge that conflicts of this type tend to drag on for a very long time, surviving several generations. The confrontation between India and Pakistan has been going on for 75 years now, with no signs that it will end in the foreseeable future. Even if the Kashmir issue is somehow resolved on terms acceptable to both sides, there are more than enough reasons for the two to remain at odds with one another. By the same token, it is difficult to imagine a situation where a reset in the Russia–Ukraine relations would be possible. Even the full and unconditional implementation of the Minsk Protocol by all parties (which appears highly unlikely today) would do little to change the overwhelmingly anti-Russian sentiments of the Ukrainian political class. Provided that Kiev manages to successfully reintegrate the Donbass, the political elite will then turn all its attention to the “Crimean agenda,” never giving up its suspicions that Moscow harbors aggressive intentions towards Kiev.

What is more, intuition would suggest that the only way the relations between New Delhi and Islamabad could return to normal is within a broader international context. The same is true of Moscow–Kiev relations. Put it differently, new security systems in Eurasia and Europe need to be built for this to happen. Even this may not be enough, though. For India, this means, above all, some kind of a stable and mutually acceptable compromise with China. For Russia, it entails significantly improved relations with the United States. This would breathe new life into multilateral structures in Europe and Eurasia, namely the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. Moving the India–Pakistan and Russia–Ukraine disputes to multilateral formats will help straighten the existing asymmetries out in the balance of power in each of the pairs, if not to make them less noticeable—provided that New Delhi and Moscow do not see these formats as attempts to “encircle” or “contain” them.

Of course, stabilization requires the stronger side to respect the weaker side’s nationhood in both cases. India has to recognize that Pakistan is not a blind tool of Beijing, while Russia must acknowledge that Ukraine, for all its weakness and dependence on external actors, is not an obedient puppet of the United States or Europe. For their part, Pakistan and Ukraine need to find some other—positive—foundations for their identity and stop pitting themselves against their stronger neighbours. Building one’s identity on the basis of negation is always detrimental and counterproductive. Incidentally, this would also be true of Russia’s attempts to build its identity on the basis that it is not part of Europe.

Everything mentioned before suggests that the immediate goal in both conflict-chains is not to “solve” the problems dividing India and Pakistan as well as Russia and Ukraine once and for all—this would simply be impossible at the present juncture. Rather, the goal should be to reduce the risks and costs that come from such a drawn-out confrontation. This, of course, does not mean that the parties cannot interact in relatively non-toxic areas such as climate change, biodiversity conservation, migration management or cross-border humanitarian contacts. Tangible headway on these issues could facilitate discussions of issues that are more sensitive and divisive.

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The Russia-China-Iran Alliance

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NATO, the U.S. Government, and all other “neoconservatives” (adherents to Cecil Rhodes’s 1877 plan for a global U.S. empire that would be run, behind the scenes, by the UK’s aristocracy) have been treating Russia, China, and Iran, as being their enemies. In consequence of this: Russia, China, and Iran, have increasingly been coordinating their international policies, so as to assist each other in withstanding (defending themselves against) the neoconservative efforts that are designed to conquer them, and to add them to the existing U.S. empire.

The U.S. empire is the largest empire that the world has ever known, and has approximately 800 military bases in foreign countries, all over the planet. This is historically unprecedented. But it is — like all historical phenomena — only temporary. However, its many propagandists — not only in the news-media but also in academia and NGOs (and Rhodesists predominate in all of those categories) — allege the U.S. (or UK-U.S.) empire to be permanent, or else to be necessary to become permanent. Many suppose that “the rise and fall of the great powers” won’t necessarily relate to the United States (i.e., that America will never fall from being the world’s dominant power); and, so, they believe that the “American Century” (which has experienced so many disastrous wars, and so many unnecessary wars) will — and even should — last indefinitely, into the future. That viewpoint is the permanent-warfare-for-permanent-peace lie: it asserts that a world in which America’s billionaires, who control the U.S. Government (and the American public now have no influence over their Government whatsoever), should continue their ‘rules-based international order’, in which these billionaires determine what ‘rules’ will be enforced, and what ‘rules’ won’t be enforced; and in which ‘rules-based international order’ international laws (coming from the United Nations) will be enforced ONLY if and when America’s billionaires want them to be enforced. The ideal, to them, is an all-encompassing global dictatorship, by U.S. (& UK) billionaires.

In other words: Russia, China, Iran, and also any nation (such as Syria, Belarus, and Venezuela) whose current government relies upon any of those three for international support, don’t want to become part of the U.S. empire. They don’t want to be occupied by U.S. troops. They don’t want their national security to depend upon serving the interests of America’s billionaires. Basically, they want the U.N. to possess the powers that its inventor, FDR, had intended it to have, which were that it would serve as the one-and-only international democratic republic of nation-states; and, as such, would have the exclusive ultimate control over all nuclear and other strategic weapons and military forces, so that there will be no World War III. Whereas Rhodes wanted a global dictatorship by a unified U.S./UK aristocracy, their ‘enemies’ want a global democracy of nations (FDR named it “the United Nations”), ruling over all international relations, and being settled in U.N.-authorized courts, having jurisdiction over all international-relations issues.

In other words: they don’t want an invasion such as the U.S. and its allies (vassal nations) did against Iraq in 2003 — an invasion without an okay from the U.N Security Council and from the General Assembly — to be able to be perpetrated, ever again, against ANY nation. They want aggressive wars (which U.S.-and-allied aristocracies ‘justify’ as being necessary to impose ‘democracy’ and ‘humanitarian values’ on other nations) to be treated as being the international war-crimes that they actually are.

However, under the prevailing reality — that international law is whatever the U.S. regime says it is — a U.N.-controlled international order doesn’t exist, and maybe never will exist; and, so, the U.S. regime’s declared (or anointed, or appointed) ‘enemies’ (because none of them actually is their enemy — none wants to be in conflict against the U.S.) propose instead a “multilateral order” to replace “the American hegemony” or global dictatorship by the U.S. regime. They want, instead, an international democracy, like FDR had hoped for, but they are willing to settle merely for international pluralism — and this is (and always has been) called “an international balance of powers.” They recognize that this (balance of powers) had produced WW I, and WW II, but — ever since the moment when Harry S. Truman, on 25 July 1945, finally ditched FDR’s intentions for the U.N., and replaced that by the Cold War for the U.S. to conquer the whole world (and then formed NATO, which FDR would have opposed doing) — they want to go back (at least temporarily) to the pre-WW-I balance-of-powers system, instead of to capitulate to the international hegemon (America’s billionaires, the controller of the U.S. empire). 

So: the Russia-China-Iran alliance isn’t against the U.S. regime, but is merely doing whatever they can to avoid being conquered by it. They want to retain their national sovereignty, and ultimately to become nation-states within a replacement-U.N. which will be designed to fit FDR’s pattern, instead of Truman’s pattern (the current, powerless, talking-forum U.N.).

Take, as an example of what they fear, not only the case of the Rhodesists’ 2003 invasion of Iraq, but the case of America’s coup against Ukraine, which Obama had started planning by no later than 2011, and which by 2013 entailed his scheme to grab Russia’s top naval base, in Crimea (which had been part of Russia from 1783 to 1954 when the Soviet dictator transferred Crimea to Ukraine). Obama installed nazis to run his Ukrainian regime, and he hoped ultimately for Ukraine to be accepted into NATO so that U.S. missiles could be installed there on Russia’s border only a five-minute missile-flight away from Moscow. Alexander Mercouris at The Duran headlined on 4 July 2021, “Ukraine’s Black Sea NATO dilemma”, and he clearly explained the coordinated U.S.-and-allied aggression that was involved in the U.S.-and-allied maneuvering. U.S.-and-allied ‘news’-media hid it. Also that day, Mercouris bannered “In Joint Statement Russia-China Agree Deeper Alliance, Balancing US And NATO”, and he reported a historic agreement between those two countries, to coordinate together to create the very EurAsian superpower that Rhodesists have always dreaded. It’s exactly the opposite of what the U.S.-and-allied regimes had been aiming for. But it was the response to the Rhodesists’ insatiable imperialism.

To drive both Russia and China into a corner was to drive them together. They went into the same corner, not different corners. They were coming together, not coming apart. And Iran made it a threesome

So: that’s how the U.S. regime’s appointed ‘enemies’ have come to join together into a virtual counterpart to America’s NATO alliance of pro-imperialist nations. It’s a defensive alliance, against an aggressive alliance — an anti-imperialist alliance, against a pro-imperialist alliance. America’s insatiably imperialistic foreign policies have, essentially, forced its ‘enemies’ to form their own alliance. It’s the only way for them to survive as independent nations, given Truman’s abortion of FDR’s plan for the U.N. — the replacement, by Truman of that, by the U.N. that became created, after FDR died on 12 April 1945.

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New Strategic Report: Development Prospects for Improving Russia’s Policy in Africa

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An expert group, has completed its studies of Russia’s policy implementation processes, impact and setbacks, and the development prospects in Africa, and has presented its final report with some recommendations intended to improve and scale up the existing Russia’s influence in Africa.

The report was prepared as part of a programme sponsored by the Russian Foreign Ministry. The Situation Analytical Report, compiled by 25 Russian policy experts, was headed by Sergei A. Karaganov, Dean and Academic Supervisor of the Faculty of World Economy and International Relations of the National Research University – Higher School of Economics (HSE University). Karaganov is also the Honorary Chairman of the Presidium, Council on Foreign and Defense Policy.

The 150-page report, released in November, offers new directions, some development prospects and recommendations for improving policy methods and approaches with Africa. The report identifies two key factors necessary for determining the long-term importance of the continent: (i) human capital and (ii) natural resources.

These make for the increased interest for investment in extractive industries and infrastructure, booming consumer markets rising at rates much higher than the rest of the world. With its 1.3 billion, it is a potential market for all kinds of consumable goods and for services. In the coming decades, there will be an accelerated competition between or among the external players over access to the resources and for economic influence in Africa.

Nevertheless, despite the growth of external player’s influence and presence in Africa, Russia has to intensify and redefine its parameters as it has now transcended unto the fifth stage. Russia’s Africa policy is roughly divided into four periods, previously after Soviet’s collapse in 1991.

The first historic summit created a good basis for launching or ushering in a new fifth stage of Russian-African relations. The joint declaration adopted at the summit raised the African agenda of Russia’s foreign policy to a new level and so far remains the main document determining the conceptual framework of Russian-African cooperation.

Some of the situation analysis participants, who contributed to the latest policy report spoke very critically of Russia’s current policy towards Africa and even claimed that there was no consistent policy and/or consistency in the policy implementation at all. The intensification of political contacts are only with a focus on making them demonstrative. Russia’s foreign policy strategy regarding Africa has to spell out and incorporate the development needs of African countries.

While the number of top-most and high-level meetings have increased, the share of substantive issues on the agenda often remains small or scanty. There are little definitive results from such meetings. There are, indeed, to demonstrate “demand for Russia” in the non-Western world; the formation of ad hoc political alliances with African countries geared towards competition with the collective West. Apart from the absence of a public strategy for the continent, there is shortage of qualified personnel, the lack of coordination among various state and para-state institutions working with Africa.

In addition, insufficient and disorganized Russian-African lobbying, and combined with the lack of “information hygiene” at all levels of public speaking were listed among the main flaws of Russia’s current Africa policy. Under the circumstance, Russia needs to compile its various ideas for cooperation with Africa into a single comprehensive and publicly available strategy to achieve more success with Africa.

In many cases and situations, ideas and intentions are often passed for results, unapproved projects are announced as going ahead. Russia’s possibilities are overestimated both publicly and in closed negotiations. The supply of Russian-made vaccines to Africa is an example. Having concluded contracts for the supply of Sputnik V to a number of African states, Russian suppliers often failed to meet its contractual obligations on time. Right now, there are many agreements signed, before and during the first Russia-Africa summit, and Russia simply fails to deliver, as promised with African countries.

“The situation analysis participants agreed that the lack of project due diligence and proper verification of contracting partners is one of the key challenges for Russian business in Africa. Many projects announced at the top and high political levels have not been implemented. The reason is usually that the projects were not properly prepared before official approval. As a result, budget funding is often spent on raw and unprepared initiatives,” according to the report.

The adoption by Russia of an open doctrinal document on cooperation with Africa will emphasize the seriousness of its intentions and create an atmosphere of trust, in which individual steps will attain greater weight and higher-level justification. In African conditions, this will mean accelerated coordination of essential decisions. It is important to note that such public strategies for the entire continent are a necessary instrument of the other countries that are active in Africa.

Unlike most competitors, Russia can afford to promote a more honest, open, direct and understandable agenda for Africa: sovereignty, continental integration, infrastructure development, human development (education and medicine), security (including the fight against hunger and epidemics), normal universal human values, the idea that people should live with dignity and feel protected. All situation analysis participants agreed with this view. The main advantage of such an agenda is that it may be more African than those of its competitors.

It is advisable to present such a strategy already at the second Russia-Africa summit, and discuss and coordinate it with African partners before that. Along with the strategy, it is advisable to adopt an Action Plan — a practical document that would fill cooperation with substance between summits.

One of the most important tasks critical for the effectiveness of Russian actions in Africa is the centralization and strengthening of the role and capacity of Russian state institutions on the African track, especially in the information sphere.

The report proposes dialogues should be enhanced between civil societies, including expert and academic organizations. In a situation where a rapid expansion of trade and economic relations is difficult (for example, due to economic stagnation or a crisis in the respective country), the humanitarian track can become one of the ways to deepen relations further.

On foreign players in Africa, the report points to China as number one active player. India’s influence continues to grow, as does the involvement of Turkey, the UAE, and Qatar, which are relatively new players in Africa. The influence and involvement of the United States, Japan, South Korea, and Brazil in the coming years, are likely to remain at the level of the past decade and will decline compared to China’s influence.

China, the EU, Germany, Turkey, Spain, and others have developed, announced and are implementing progressively their African strategies.

In general, of all the G7 countries, only Germany still has some potential to increase its influence and presence in Africa. Canada, Italy, and the UK, according to the authors, can at best maintain their influence at the same level, but it, too, will decrease compared that of the new centers of power.

At the same time, for its part, Africa will retain its importance for Europe in the long term and may even increase being an important source of a wide range of resources. Europe needs mineral resources (cobalt, gas, bauxite, rare earth metals) in order to carry out the energy transition, and human ones in order to make up for the natural decrease of population. The European banking system and financial institutions traditionally rely on Africa as a source of funding (while African capital often seeks refuge, and instability only accelerates its flight).

The influence of other non-European emerging powers, who often compete with each other, is also growing in Africa. UAE and Turkey may be mentioned among others. Their rivalry is visible in North Africa, West Africa and, especially, the Red Sea, and includes competition for control over both port infrastructure and points of possible military presence. A vivid example of this rivalry is Somalia, where Turkey is interacting and strengthening its position in Mogadishu, while the UAE, which recently lost control of the port in Djibouti, is taking a foothold in Berbera (in the self-proclaimed Republic of Somaliland).

There are indications that Israel, whose activity in many African countries, particularly in East Africa, has remained traditionally high (especially in “sensitive” areas, such as internal security, the training of security and special forces, as well as in economic, especially agriculture projects), will continue to increase its involvement in the short and medium term.

Making efforts to maintain and expand its presence in Africa, Israel is developing contacts with the UAE and through it with a number of Gulf countries. Africa will be one of the platforms for Israel’s interaction with these countries. It will continue attempts to reduce the influence of Iran that has been carrying out its own diverse activity in Africa, seeking to expand it further.

On July 22, 2021, already after the situation analysis had taken place, it was declared that Israel had obtained an observer status to the African Union.

In the next ten years, rivalry, the balance of power and interests in the Indian Ocean will become a key factor of military and strategic importance, for this is where the interests of China, India, Pakistan, Turkey, Arab countries, Iran, as well as the United States, France and other players are likely to collide. These countries will use significant resources to strengthen their positions along the entire coast of Eastern Africa, from Egypt to South Africa, which means both risks and new opportunities for the countries of the region. The military and strategic importance of the Indian Ocean islands (including four African island states) will continue to grow.

The report proposes discussions on possible mechanisms and formats of bilateral and multilateral alliances with interested parties, whose interests in Africa may coincide with the Russian ones. For example, the potential of bilateral cooperation in Africa with India (including outside of BRICS) has not been fully tapped yet. Joint initiatives in Africa in the areas of international development assistance, education, health care, and project financing may be of interest as well. It is also advisable to explore, including at the expert level, the possibility of engaging with countries such as South Korea (widely represented in Africa), Vietnam (showing growing interest), Cuba, Serbia, and several others as part of Russian initiatives in Africa.

Without Africa, Russia would not have so many friendly partners sharing its strategic goal of building a fair polycentric world order. By all purposes, Africa seems to be a favorable region in terms of positioning Russia as a global center of power and a country that defends peace, sovereignty, the right of states to choose development models independently, and as a protector of nature and the environment. Therefore, Russia’s increased presence and influence in Africa does not and should not cause resistance among African countries.

It is also important to move away from the “zero-sum” approach in relations with the West, even though at first glance the interests and aspirations of the EU and the U. S. in Africa seem to be opposite to those of Russia. Russia should build its policy and rhetoric in relation to Africa regardless of its rivalry with the West and should not create the impression that its policy in Africa is driven by the wish to weaken the positions of the United States and the EU on the continent.

The situation analysis participants agreed that Russia’s policy in Africa should be a derivative of Russia’s overall foreign policy goals and objectives, the three key areas being:

a) Ensuring national security. In the African context, this means primarily the danger of new viruses, extremism, anything that may impact Russia’s national security, including competition with other centers of power.

b) Ensuring social and economic development of Russia. Africa is a promising market
for Russian products and services, and a factor that facilitates the diversification and
modernization of the Russian economy. The situation analysis participants agreed that this is the main aspect today. In future, Africa can become one of the important factors in the development of some of Russian non-resource sectors, particularly railway and agricultural engineering, automotive and wheeled equipment, as well as services (primarily education and health care).

c) Strengthening the position of the Russian Federation as one of the influential centers in the modern world. Political partnership with African countries and the African Union as friendly players can make an important contribution to these efforts. As UN votes show, the positions of Russia and most African countries are conceptually identical or similar on many issues. None of the African countries imposed sanctions or restrictions against Russia. The ideological basis for cooperation at this level can be provided by the conceptual documents and ideas recognized and supported by all African countries: the approach of “African Solutions to African Problems” be strictly followed, working within the framework of the African Union Agenda 2063 and the UN Development Goals 2030.

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How the Arms Control Approach Could Help Russia Tackle Climate Change

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The right approach would probably be to create a special interagency coordinator under a senior official reporting directly to the head of state. It is vitally important that whoever heads the office is well respected by international partners: a worthy counterpart to the likes of John Kerry of the United States.

The energy crunch in Europe; the knee-jerk accusations of Russia having engineered it to win early approval of the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline; and the Kremlin’s riposte, pointing to the EU’s own policy failures, dominate the news. Yet one really important development remains underreported. Moscow’s official view of climate change and energy policy has just undergone a major reversal. Weeks before the COP-26 climate summit in Glasgow, Russia’s Economic Development Ministry has come up with a national goal of achieving carbon neutrality by 2060.

This is not a covert attempt by the in-system liberals to begin aligning Russia’s climate policy with the policies of the world’s major powers. Rather, it is the consummation of a sea change that has been brewing for the past couple of years in the Kremlin’s thinking. President Vladimir Putin announced the carbon neutrality goal in remarks at the recent Russian Energy Week in Moscow. Climate change denial is over. Debate about what exactly has caused it is considered politically irrelevant. What matters are the existing realities and the current trends, which amount to all the world’s major economies moving away from dependence on fossil fuels. As a result, the new nexus of efforts to deal with climate change, the energy transition those efforts center on, and the geopolitical impact of that transition are moving right to the top of the Russian foreign policy agenda.

Of course, this is not all or even mostly foreign policy. Energy transition, which is the core issue, will affect not just the oil and gas sector, which in 2020 accounted for 15 percent of Russia’s GDP, but the country’s entire economy and finances, its political economy, and the relative political influence of various vested interests. Given the coincidence of energy transition and the inevitable transfer of political power, this combination is likely to become one of the most important processes shaping Russia’s future for years and decades to come.

Still, the foreign policy aspect of the change is non-negligible. The carbon neutrality pledges already announced by Russia’s main economic partners—the European Union and China; the United States, Japan and others—as well as the UN climate conference in Glasgow next month are all compelling Moscow to come up with a strategy of its own, and soon. Such a strategy will aim to preserve the country’s position as an energy power, but on a much more diverse foundation.

Integrating climate science, energy issues, and geopolitical objectives to produce and pursue an effective strategy could be compared to the task faced by the Soviet Union in the late 1960s–1980s. Back then, Moscow had to come up with a practical way to link nuclear science and weapons development, military force posture and strategy, the capabilities of the defense industry, and wider foreign policy goals. The result was transiting from the sterile rhetoric of universal disarmament to a diplomacy of strategic arms control that eventually produced strategic stability between the Soviet Union and the United States.

What is needed today is for various parts of the Russian government to pool their resources. The offices of the president’s special representative for climate issues and the special representative for liaison with international organizations on reaching sustainable development goals are evidently too small to take control. The ministries of foreign affairs, economic development, and finance; the Russian Academy of Sciences; and the Security Council all have an interest and possess valuable expertise on the issues, but none of them can actually be charged with taking the lead on their own.

The right approach would probably be to create a special unit under a senior official reporting directly to the head of state. That unit would become an interagency coordinator among the many ministries that have interest and expertise on the relevant issues. Also, to borrow a page from the history books on Soviet arms control, a permanent mechanism could be organized of principals and deputies from various parts of the government to discuss and prepare decisions on these matters. This would be an analogue of the Big Five on strategic arms negotiations (the Party Central Committee, the Defense Ministry, the KGB, the Military Industrial Commission of the Council of Ministers, and the Foreign Affairs Ministry). It is vitally important that whoever heads the office has direct access to the president and is well respected by international partners. He or she needs to be a worthy counterpart to the likes of John Kerry of the United States.

The current hike in gas prices in Europe has motivated a number of people in Russia to sneer at green and alternative energy projects and reassert the continuing primacy of traditional sources of energy. Life is never linear, of course. However, even if future economic development does not completely close the books on fossil fuels (and it probably won’t, at least for a long time), the balance of energy consumption by some of the key buyers of Russian oil and gas will most likely change fast.

The speed of change means that temporizing now would undermine Russia’s chances of limiting the damage from the reduction of the world’s demand for its oil and gas. It would also prevent it from participating in developing new global norms and from taking advantage of its vast potential capabilities in such areas as hydrogen energy. Strategic decisions on that score have just been made, and this is a crucial positive step. The task now is to construct well-designed mechanisms to implement those decisions nationally and in foreign policy.

This article was published as part of the “Relaunching U.S.-Russia Dialogue on Global Challenges: The Role of the Next Generation” project, implemented in cooperation with the U.S. Embassy to Russia. The opinions, findings, and conclusions stated herein are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the U.S. Embassy to Russia.

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“Myths and misconceptions” about HIV and AIDS continue to fuel stigma and discrimination in the workplace, the International Labour Organization (ILO) said on Tuesday.  Despite some improvement...

Finance4 hours ago

What can I do with an Economics degree?

A degree in economics will increase your employability in any industry. High-skilled graduates are in high demand worldwide. The wide...

Middle East5 hours ago

Israel-Palestine: Risk of ‘deadly escalation’ in violence, without decisive action

With violence continuing daily throughout the Occupied Palestinian Territory, the Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process urged the Security Council on Tuesday to adopt...

Reports7 hours ago

Amidst Strong Economic Rebound in Russia, Risks Stemming from COVID-19 and Inflation

Following a strong economic rebound in 2021, with 4.3 percent growth, Russia’s growth is expected to slow in 2022 and...

Green Planet9 hours ago

COP-26 Results: High Hopes for Low Temperatures

The 26th Conference of the Parties (COP-26) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) was held in...

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