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Russia in the Eastern Mediterranean: The Art of Balancing

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Strictly speaking, Russia is not an Eastern Mediterranean country. It does not have direct access to the Mediterranean Sea; its most important strategic and economic interests belong to other parts of the world, such as the North Atlantic or East Asia. However, for a long time Russia has been trying to make its presence in the region visible; this continuous interest goes back to at least the 18th century and it results from a variety of geopolitical, economic, strategic, religious and cultural reasons. Today Moscow arguably enjoys more visibility here than even the Soviet Union did at the peak of its global outreach. Moreover, Vladimir Putin can present the Kremlin’s presence in the Eastern Mediterranean as one of the most spectacular and unquestionable personal foreign policy accomplishments.

Still, can one argue that Russia has a consistent and comprehensive strategic approach to the region? To forge and to sustain such an approach would be a challenging task for a number of reasons. First, the Eastern Mediterranean is simply too large and too diverse to have a ‘one size fits all’ pattern to multiple crises and conflicts here. Second, Russia’s capabilities in the region—especially in the economic domain and in soft power tools—are quite limited and do not allow Moscow to pursue a long-term strategy guided by a compelling comprehensive vision of the region’s future. Unlike the Soviet Union, Russia has no social and economic model that it could offer nations of the region to follow and imitate. Third, Russia’s approaches to specific countries in the Eastern Mediterranean reflect a complex interaction of various political, economic and other group interests in Moscow; the exact balance of these interests may fluctuate from one country to another and from one stage of the Russian engagement to another.

Keeping all these factors in mind, one could conclude that instead of trying to articulate an all-inclusive ‘Putin doctrine’ for the region, it would be appropriate to look at the Russian policy as an attempt to balance a number of diverging principles, goals, priorities and modes of engagement in the Eastern Mediterranean. In some cases, this balance turns out to be quite successful; in other cases, it leads to unforeseen complications and rising political risks. Let us outline some of the most important balancing dilemmas that contemporary Russian policies implicitly or explicitly contain.

Global vs Regional Priorities

The Kremlin’s approach to the region has always depended to a certain degree on Russia’s overall relations with the West; any significant ups or downs in these relations have produced direct and visible implications for the Russian posture in the Eastern Mediterranean. For example, it would not be an over-exaggeration to argue that the initial Russian military engagement in Syria in the autumn of 2015 had a significant ‘pedagogical’ dimension—after a spectacular Western failure in Libya and a less than impressive US performance in Iraq, Vladimir Putin clearly intended to teach the West how to ‘fix’ a MENA country. Particularly in the aftermath of the acute crisis in and around Ukraine, it was very important for the Kremlin to demonstrate that in the Eastern Mediterranean Russia could become not a part of the problem, but rather a part of the solution.

As it turned out, this initial plan did not work—neither in Syria, nor in Libya later on. The Russian political and especially military presence in the region very soon became yet another complicating factor in uneasy relations between Moscow and Western capitals. Therefore, the Kremlin’s balance of priorities gradually shifted from trying to forge a deal with global players to engaging regional actors—such as Damascus, Ankara, Tehran, Riyadh, Cairo, and so on. This shift of Russia’s priorities took place in parallel with a gradual decline of the US interest in the region and with mostly unsuccessful attempts by the EU to come up with a consolidated European approach to the Eastern Mediterranean. Apparently, today Moscow is not ready to jeopardise its numerous regional partnerships for the sake of better relations with the United States or the European Union. So far, such an approach turned out to be generally productive, but it might lose its efficiency if the West gets more focused on the region and invests more resources and political capital in eroding Russian partnerships (e.g. by incentivising Turkey to become a more disciplined member of the NATO Alliance).

Standing by Legitimacy vs Promoting Change

Russian leadership has traditionally taken a consistently legalistic approach to political developments in the world at large and in the Eastern Mediterranean region in particular. It has explicitly opposed any attempts at regime change, even if in the Kremlin they had many reservations about the regime in question. Russia did not welcome the Arab Spring in 2011, it denounced the violent overthrows of Muammar Gaddafi in Libya and Hosni Mubarak in Egypt. Many Russian scholars believe that the events of the Arab Spring had a profound impact on Vladimir Putin’s thinking and triggered his decision to return to the Kremlin in 2012. Moscow later supported Bashar Assad in Syria arguing that he represented the only legitimate power in the country. Putin was one of the first foreign leaders to support Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan during the 15 July 2016 coup d’état attempt in his country.

However, this insistence on the principle of legitimacy has demonstrated its limitations. For instance, in Libya the Kremlin supported Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar though his legitimacy was clearly inferior to that of the Fayez al-Sarraj led Government of National Accord recognised by the United Nations. Neither did Moscow voice its concerns about the Taliban replacing the legitimate government in Kabul. It seems that the Kremlin applies its legalistic approach to primarily political leaders in the region capable of retaining not only a de jure, but also a de facto control over territories of their respective countries. In other words, Russia stands not so much for legitimacy per se, but rather for ‘order and stability’, which are perceived as the most important values and indispensable sources of regime legitimacy.

Supporting Secularism vs Islamism

In most cases, in the Eastern Mediterranean as well as in other parts of the world, Russia prefers secular regimes to Islamists, even if the latter come to power through open and democratic elections. This preference might be rooted in the Kremlin’s own experience with Islamists in the Northern Caucasus and in other predominantly Muslim regions of the Russian Federation. There seems to be an instinctive fear of even moderate Islamism, not to mention its more fundamentalist and radical incarnations. Moscow was reluctant to take the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood off its list of terrorist organisations even after this movement had come to power in Cairo and its candidate Mohamed Morsi had become Egypt’s president. This is the same reluctance we now see regarding the possible formal delisting of the Taliban in Afghanistan.

Still, there are important deviations from this general rule and even explicit exceptions from it. Sometimes, the Kremlin seems to care more about the declaratory statements of its partners in the region rather than their actual practice. For instance, in Libya Russia supported Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar partially because he positioned himself as a committed opponent of Islamism though he had Salafi units in his army and explicitly associated himself with various fundamentalist clergymen. Moreover, the Kremlin maintains open communication lines to Hamas in Palestine or Hezbollah in Lebanon though both are Islamic fundamentalists. The Islamic Republic of Iran can hardly be qualified a secular state, etc. At the end of the day, the future of Russian influence in the Eastern Mediterranean will depend largely on the ability or inability of Moscow to reach out to moderate Islamic groups in the region.

Striving for Presence vs Control

The Russian leadership is fully aware of the fact that Russia’s economic, military and political resources that it can allocate to the Eastern Mediterranean are quite limited in comparison to what some other international actors, especially the United States and the European Union (but also China and even Gulf states), can bring to the region. Therefore, in most cases the Kremlin seeks a seat at the table, but it has no ambitions to chair the meeting unilaterally. This is the case with the Middle East Peace Process, where Russia remains one of the consistent champions of the Quartet format; this is also the case in Libya and in Afghanistan too. Participation rather than control gives Russia a say in many regional matters without imposing on Moscow the full responsibility for everything that happens in this or that corner of the region.

Syria stands out as a remarkable exception from the rule. Though Moscow must coordinate its military activities in this country with Tehran and Ankara within the multilateral Astana Process, in Syria the Kremlin is apparently looking for control rather than for mere presence. This mode of Russia’s operations is unique for its policies in the Eastern Mediterranean. Its efficiency is questionable: many experts in Russia argue that in practical terms Bashar Assad often manipulates the Kremlin, not the other way round. It is hard to imagine that Russia would try to impose its ‘control’ on any other Eastern Mediterranean state in the near future.

Favouring Geoeconomics vs Geopolitics

Though Russian leaders like to talk about their country as a global ‘security provider’, in most cases, Russia would like to see its engagement with the Eastern Mediterranean as economically profitable. Moscow has strong economic ties to Turkey, which at least partially explains a remarkable resilience of Russian-Turkish political relations despite a lot of important issues on which Moscow consistently disagrees with Ankara. Among Arab nations of the region, Russia focuses mostly on relatively wealthy countries like Iraq, Egypt and Algeria, that can become valuable consumers of Russia’s military hardware and agricultural exports or can offer lucrative opportunities to Russian energy and infrastructure companies. One can argue that the Russian engagement in Libya had geoeconomic considerations—Libya is a rich country capable of paying for its imports and development projects in hard cash.

Here Syria again stands out as a noticeable exception. Though Moscow tries very hard to get some economic returns on its political and military investments in this country, it seems that this goal is not easy to reach—particularly now with Damascus exposed to multiple US and EU economic sanctions. Experts assess the overall Russian annual spending in Syria at the level of $ 1-2 billion, which is not a prohibitively high cost for the Kremlin. Still, it would be difficult to imagine Russian involvement in Syria turning into an economically profitable project any time soon. Given the mounting social and economic problems at home and the Russian public focusing more and more on the domestic agenda, it seems logical that in the nearest future Russia will continue to prioritise its economic interests over geopolitical ambitions in the Eastern Mediterranean. This approach might make Moscow more receptive to potential partnerships with external players willing to shoulder Russia’s political and military engagement with economic and financial resources that the Kremlin does not have at its disposal.

Emphasising State vs “Private” Engagement

Russia is well-known for its highly statist approach to international relations. The Kremlin heavily relies on summit diplomacy, state- to-state agreements, intense interactions between bureaucrats representing various ministers and other governmental agencies. Non-state actors—both in the private and civil society sectors—are usually expected to follow state agreements and stay in line with state policies. This approach can be particularly efficient in dealing with authoritarian regimes trying to fully control both private business and civil society institutions. The downside of this approach is that quite often the state-to-state dimension remains much more advanced than any social and humanitarian interaction conducted at the level of non-state actors. Intense and multifaceted interactions between societies do not always compliment interactions at the top political levels.

However, recently Moscow has tried to diversify its kit of foreign policy instruments in the region, allowing private and semi-private groups and organisations to play a more visible and more autonomous role. Allegedly, in Libya the Russian leadership made a strategic decision to outsource a significant part of its activities in this country to private military companies (the so-called “Wagner Group”). Moscow allegedly applied a similar pattern, though on a smaller scale, in the North of Syria (Deir ez-Zor). This shift allows the Kremlin to distance itself from certain high-risk operations on the ground without losing the overall control over private groups’ operations. Prominent Islamic figures from Russia—the most visible is Ramzan Kadyrov from Chechnya—are now making strong statements about developments in the region and might even pursue their own policies in places like Syria or even Afghanistan. It is not clear to what extent these statements and politics are coordinated with the Russian Foreign Ministry.

Working with Everybody vs Taking Sides

One of the comparative advantages that Russia enjoys in the Eastern Mediterranean is its ability to maintain constructive relations with the opposite sides of regional conflicts: with Sunni and Shia, Iranians and Saudis, Israelis and Palestinians, Turks and Kurds, UAE and Qatar, and so on. Doing that, Moscow keeps its political investment portfolio diversified and hopes to benefit from any plausible outcome of the conflict in question. On top of that, this unique position allows Moscow to claim the role of an honest broker—at least, in some situations. It should also be noted that the Kremlin can always dig into a significant pool of highly qualified Russian experts on the region with a deep knowledge of various countries, ethnic and religious groups. This helps Moscow to avoid some of the blunders often committed by other overseas powers operating in the Eastern Mediterranean.

Nevertheless, the position of a mediator might be difficult to sustain when the conflict escalates, the fighting sides raise stakes and push Moscow for more assistance. For instance, the close partnership with Bashar Assad in Syria arguably jeopardised Russia’s long-term friendly relations with Syrian Kurds, and the Russian-Iranian partnership in Syria has become a major complicating factor in Russian-Israeli relations. Continued attempts to take an equidistant position might erode trust for Russia on both sides and might generate complaints and grievances about an alleged Russian inconsistency and even cynicism. However, the alternative—a firm and unconditional support of one side in the conflict (e.g. standing by Bashar Assad in Syria)—has a number of its own shortcomings and liabilities.

In summary, the art of balancing its foreign policy objectives, foreign policy tools and multiple regional partners in the Eastern Mediterranean requires a very calibrated and fine-tuned approach to every engagement in the region. So far, the Kremlin has managed to keep associated risks under control. Still, it faces quite a bumpy road ahead. A lot will depend on factors beyond Russia’s control—most importantly, on the regional security dynamics, on successes and failures of state building efforts in the Eastern Mediterranean and on the level and mode of engagement by the main non-regional actors like the US, the EU and China.

From our partner RIAC

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Don’t listen to the naysayers, the ICC’s arrest warrant for Putin is a game changer

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The International Criminal Court’s decision to issue an arrest warrant for Vladimir Putin is a game changer. The wheels of justice are turning, and not in Putin’s favour.

This comes as the ICC issued an arrest warrant for Putin last week, accusing him of responsibility for illegally transferring Ukrainian children to Russia, which is a war crime. A warrant was also issued for Maria Alekseyevna Lvova-Belova, Russia’s commissioner for children’s rights.

The Ukrainian government welcomed the decision. Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba reacted to the warrant by stating that the “wheels of Justice are turning: I applaud the ICC decision to issue arrest warrants for Vladimir Putin and Maria Lvova-Belova” and that “international criminals will be held accountable for stealing children and other international crimes.”

Both Putin and Lvova-Belova have been accused of forcefully transferring thousands of Ukrainian children across the border to Russia.

The Ukrainian government claims 16,226 children – ranging from infants to teenagers – have been deported to Russia, while others estimate a figure closer to 400,000.

It’s reported this is part of a large-scale, systematic attempt at adopting and ‘re-educating’ thousands of Ukrainian children in at least 40 camps throughout Russia.

Kubela has labelled Russia’s actions as “probably the largest forced deportation in modern history” and a “genocidal crime”.

Russian officials have been surprisingly open about the transfer of children, unapologetically claiming it is part of a humanitarian project designed to re-home orphaned Ukrainian children.

The ICC investigators clearly disagree.

Commentators and legal experts have pointed out that the court has no powers to enforce its own warrants and that – because Russia is not a party to the court – it is also incredibly unlikely Putin will find himself in The Hague.

While these observations are probably correct, they ignore the broader implications of the court’s decision.

Putin is the first world leader to have a warrant issued for his arrest since former Sudanese President Omar Al-Bashir was issued a warrant by the court in 2009.

Like Al-Bashir, Putin is unlikely to be arrested outside of Russia.

But symbolism is important. It signals to despots around the world that they cannot commit heinous crimes with impunity.

It’s also important for Ukrainians, validating their suffering by having their abuser named and shamed.

The warrant also sets the scene for a larger investigation into crimes committed in Ukraine by Putin’s regime.

Yesterday, the Prosecutor General of Ukraine Kostin Andriy signed an agreement with the court to establish an ICC country office in Ukraine.

This is a signal that the court intends to investigate other alleged war crimes committed in Ukraine.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has claimed Russia has committed over 400 war crimes in the Kherson region alone.

Mass graves have also been discovered outside the towns of Bucha and Izium, with 400 and 450 bodies found respectively. Russia has been accused of murdering and murdering these people.

There have also been several documented attacks on civilian infrastructure by Russian forces, including the now infamous airstrikes on a theatre and maternity hospital in Mariupol.

Greater collaboration between Ukrainian war crimes investigators and the court will likely result in more crimes being documented and more charges laid against Putin and his officials.

The decision by the ICC also isolates Putin at a time when he is searching for allies around the world.

Last year, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov went on a diplomatic spree across Africa to build support for the invasion in the region. This includes trips to Libya, Mali, Sudan, the Central African Republic and Mozambique.

Russia has also leant heavily on ‘BRICS’ countries, an informal bloc of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa.

The problem for Putin is that any country that has signed up to the 1998 Rome Statute of the ICC must arrest him if he enters their country.

In what is a case of sublime timing, Putin is scheduled to meet with his BRICS counterparts in South Africa – which is a signatory to the statute – in August.

A spokesman for South African President Cyril Ramaphosa admitted the government faces a dilemma, stating that “we are, as the government, cognisant of our legal obligation”.

The government of Brazil echoed similar sentiments. This week, the Minister of Foreign Affars Mauro Vieira said that Putin could be arrested if he entered the country. Another unnamed government official warned that “anyone who goes to a country that is a member of the ICC can have problems, I have no doubt about that.”

Even if South Africa falls foul of its legal obligations – like it did by not arresting Al-Bashir in 2015 – it still represents a two-fold problem for Putin. He will be hesitant to travel abroad for fear of arrest, and his so-called allies will be hesitant to visit Russia to avoid associating themselves with a wanted war criminal.

The seriousness of the situation for Putin’s regime can be seen in their response.

Former Russian President Dmitry Medvedev responded to the arrest warrant threatening any attempt to arrest Putin would be a “declaration of war” and suggested Russia could fire missiles at the ICC headquarters in The Hague.

The Speaker of the Russian Duma Vyacheslav Volodin claimed the arrest warrant was more evidence of western “hysteria” and that “we regard any attacks on the President of the Russian Federation as aggression against our country.”

The bluster coming out of Moscow suggests the regime was surprised by the decision.

It is an acknowledgement that – overnight – the situation changed for Putin, and not for the better.

If Putin wasn’t a global pariah before, he certainly is now.

There are 123 countries he will fear travelling to and his regime – whether found guilty or not – will be forever tainted with the deaths of thousands of innocent men, women and children.

With both Ukraine and the European Union planning to establish tribunals to prosecute Russian war crimes, the pressure will only continue to build on Putin’s regime.

Will Putin ever find himself in The Hague? It is unlikely. History shows it is hard to arrest and convict heads of state.

But – just like the late Slobodan Milošević – leaders can often find themselves in places they least expect.

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How Russia Can Build Relations With Friendly Countries

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A year into the conflict between Russia and the West turning into a proxy military confrontation, the most important lesson learned in terms of the international consequences of these developments is that such a large and powerful country really cannot be isolated in terms of foreign policy. It is difficult to say with certainty how much this is connected with the merits and activity of the Russian state itself, and what simply turned out to be an inevitable consequence of the changing world over the past three-four decades.

Much more important is the result: a year after the United States and its allies announced their determination to seriously limit Moscow’s opportunities for international communication, the vast majority of countries maintain stable working relations with Russia; they trade and cooperate in various sectors. In most cases, new contacts are limited not even by Western pressure on third countries, but by Russia’s own unpreparedness to follow through on so many suddenly-open opportunities. This has become so obvious over the past few months that it is recognised even by the opponents of Russia, for whom any concession to conventional common sense is a deep and tragic experience.

We cannot now say with certainty to what extent Russia itself is capable of fully realising the new features of its international position or its true causes. The understanding of this, apparently, exists among the top Russian leadership and has become one of the reasons for its confidence that it is right, along with the conviction that a new stage in relations with the West is not only inevitable, but also necessary in the context of the development of Russia’s political civilisation. However, at the level of the implementation of a specific policy by the state apparatus, the activities of the business sector, the reflections of the expert community or the practical activities of NGOs, we still have to work on developing a number of important habits and come to an understanding of the nature of relations between Russia and the outside world.

First of all, it is necessary to understand that the new quality of relations with the outside world cannot be considered in the context of the conflict between Russia and the West. The military-political confrontation with the United States and its allies is central to ensuring national security. However, the specific causes of the conflict are the result of how Russian-Western relations developed after the Cold War and are very indirectly related to the fate, interests and aspirations of the rest of the world. The way most states behaved towards Russia is a consequence of their own development and interests. These two factors are much more stable and long-term than the current clash between Russia and the West, so it would be erroneous, even at the theoretical level, to link the conflict in one direction and cooperation in the other. Moreover, this may turn out to be a mistake, since it can create confidence that the development of relations with non-Western states is a temporary measure, a necessity that will disappear or decrease after the acute phase of the conflict with the West ends.

Second, the behaviour of those states that do not now oppose Russia and even cooperate with it (which has become commonplace) is not a sign that they are allies of Moscow or are slated to become allies under certain circumstances. There are, of course, exceptions, and even very large ones. China, for example, associates its security and ability to realize foreign policy interests with Russia. A similar position is held by Iran, for which the inability of Russia and China to limit the assertiveness of the West may pose a serious threat in the future. In addition, there is a group of countries already associated with Moscow much more significantly than with its adversaries or third powers. However, in general, the so-called World Majority is not a group of states united by common interests, but an indicator of the democratic state of international politics.

Third, a significant number of states are friendly to Russia precisely because, in principle, they do not need allies or patrons, and rely only on their diplomatic skills. In other words, what brings them closer to Russia’s interests now is at the same time an obstacle to establishing a more solid or formalised relationship, not to mention listening to Russia’s opinions on value issues or even the way things are done in the world. One of the reasons why the United States is growing weaker in its ability to convince others that it is right is precisely that many countries are quite capable of formulating their own ideas about a fair domestic and international order. It would be a little naïve to think that there are those seeking to replace one external adviser with another.

In this regard, Russia may need to take a more careful and prudent approach to the question of the reasons for the sympathies that exist throughout the world in relation to it. In fact, dissatisfaction with oppression from the US and Europe is only one aspect of the motives that determine the desire of many states for greater independence. Perhaps this is even a little more important than the desire to benefit from relations with Russia amid conditions where it has turned to the rest of the world and connects with it many of the issues related to its economic stability. But value issues, also play a significant role. In this respect, Russia really has something to be proud of without trying at the same time to offer more comprehensive plans and objectives. Here we are talking about what makes the modern Russian state attractive to others.

The so-called “soft power”, i.e. the ability to influence the decisions of other countries in ways other than forceful pressure and bribery, is not a product of a nation’s diplomatic activity, but the degree of closeness of the internal structure to abstract ideals that exist in the minds of others. It would be a mistake to think that the state can increase its attractiveness only by investing in the expansion of culture, science or education. Moreover, exaggerated attention to these areas of activity can provoke opposition from the elites of partner countries, for which control over the minds and hearts of citizens is an essential part of strengthening their own power. Even more so, it is impossible to become attractive by organizing the direct bribery of journalists or those who are commonly called leaders of public opinion. First of all, because opponents will always be able to offer a higher price and, furthermore, a more quiet shelter.

However, much more effective than investing in self-advertising abroad can be an increase in openness to the outside world. Modern Russia for most countries in Asia, Africa and the Middle East is truly a unique society that combines visible signs of European culture and traditions, on the one hand, and a tolerance for other religions and ethnic diversity that is completely uncharacteristic of the West. Already now one can hear from diplomats from Islamic countries that among all the states of the global North, Russia is the most comfortable for Muslims to live.

The same applies to smaller religious communities. Unlike European states, Russia preserves and cultivates ethnic diversity. All these are the real advantages of Russia in the eyes of humanity, with which we will have to live and cooperate in the coming decades, if not longer. The sooner we understand that the basis of “soft power” is internal, and not in the activities of Russia’s representatives abroad, the sooner we will be able to benefit from our own objective advantages.

from our partner RIAC

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Amid Ukraine Crisis, Russia Deepens Strategic Cooperation With China

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Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping have concluded their three-day diplomatic deliberations, most importantly questions focused on raising economic cooperation and finding strategic peaceful solutions to the Ukraine crisis which started since February 2022, amid the geo-political tensions and re-configuration of the world.

While aspects of the Putin-Jinping diplomatic talks and results were awash in the local and foreign media, the academic researchers’ community and policy experts were upbeat with divergent views, detailed analysis and interpretations, and future political predictions. In the present circumstances, any forecast or outlook made previously, may have changed largely due to the developments emerging from Putin-Jinping meetings.

But our monitoring shows that Putin and Jinping, their large delegations from both sides, discussed a wide range of issues on the modern world agenda, with a particular emphasis on the prospects for cooperation. At the far end, Putin and Xi signed a lengthy statement on deepening their nine-point comprehensive partnership, as well as a separate statement on an economic cooperation plan through 2030.

The parties signed two documents – the Joint Statement on Deepening the Russian-Chinese Comprehensive Partnership and Strategic Cooperation for a New Era, as well as the Joint Statement by the President of Russia and the President of China on the Plan to Promote the Key Elements of Russian-Chinese Economic Cooperation until 2030. 

The latter consists of eight major areas, including increasing the scale of trade, developing the logistics system, increasing the level of financial cooperation and agricultural cooperation, partnership in the energy sector, as well as promoting exchanges and qualitatively expanding cooperation in the fields of technology and innovation.

The leaders revealed the details of the talks to the media – Putin noted that Russia and China’s positions on most international issues are similar or heavily coincide. According to Xi Jinping, the parties will uphold the fundamental norms of international relations. He believes that the sphere of cooperation between Russia and China, as well as political mutual trust, is constantly expanding. 

In terms of the economic agenda, trade turnover is expected to surpass the $200 billon target. The parties also discussed their intensive energy cooperation and agreed on the main parameters of the construction of the Power of Siberia-2 gas pipeline. Meanwhile, the total volume of gas supplies by 2030 will be at least 98 bln cubic meters and 100 mln tons of LNG, the Russian leader specified.

In-person meetings may continue in the near future. Chinese President stated that he invited Vladimir Putin to visit China during an informal conversation. Russia’s Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin is also expected to pay a reciprocal working visit to China. Beijing, in particular, is eager to resume regular meetings between the two countries’ heads of government.

Reading through the local media, Financial and Business Vedomosti reported that Russia was ready to take Chinese peace plan for Ukraine, not for resolution of the ongoing crisis, but as a basis for future work on Ukraine. Russia has carefully reviewed China’s plan for a peaceful settlement in Ukraine and believes it can be used for future talks, Russian President Vladimir Putin said after talks with Chinese President Xi Jinping on March 21. Russia, however, sees no readiness for peace talks from the West or Kiev, according to Putin. 

Experts interviewed by Vedomosti believe that China’s initiative could be used as a basis for talks, but any progress would require long and difficult negotiations. For his part, Xi Jinping said that China supports a conflict resolution based on the UN Charter, encourages reconciliation and the resumption of negotiations, and is always committed to peace and dialogue.

China’s 12-point plan for resolving the Ukrainian crisis includes respecting the sovereignty and territorial integrity of all countries as well as the norms of international law; abandoning the Cold War mentality; initiating peace talks; resolving the humanitarian crisis; protecting civilians and prisoners of war; supporting the safety of nuclear power plants; reducing strategic risks; and preventing the use of nuclear weapons. 

The document described the talks as “the only way to resolve the crisis in Ukraine” and called on all sides to support Moscow and Kiev in “moving toward each other” and promptly resuming a direct dialogue. It urged the global community to create conditions and provide a platform for the resumption of talks.

Experts, however, said that China’s initiative could benefit Russia because it involves a ceasefire and the lifting of sanctions, followed by negotiations to reach a political agreement. At the same time, such negotiations will have no chance of success unless Ukraine accepts and recognizes Russian control over the new regions and Crimea, as required by the Russian Constitution. 

At the same time, there is noticeable distinction between the Russian-Chinese position and that of Western countries and their allies. Meanwhile, United States, the West and Ukraine have openly rejected China’s position that there needed to be a ceasefire.

Before Xi Jinping landed in Moscow, the Chinese Foreign Ministry in February published a document laying out its position on a political settlement of the crisis in Ukraine. On March 20, Jinping held a one-on-one meeting with Putin that lasted about 4 1/2 hours, according to reports from the Kremlin. On March 22, he spent about six hours at talks in the Kremlin in various formats. The parties signed two statements outlining what was accomplished during the visit and called it successful. Chinese President Xi Jinping was on a three-day working visit, March 20-22 in Moscow, Russian Federation.

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