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The Ukrainian crisis and the long-range international repercussions

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The situation in Ukraine has suddenly changed. After the Security Council of the Russian Federation, the State Duma, the Council of the Russian Federation and the Russian Federal Security Service pushed President Putin to recognise the independence of the Doneck People’s Republic and the Lugansk People’s Republic, on February 21, 2022 local time, he delivered a national video speech, announcing the recognition of the two places as independent countries and signing relevant Presidential agreements and decrees.

What is Russia’s reason for making this move? Since US President Biden took office, the geopolitical game between the United States and Russia has intensified in Ukraine: why should Ukraine be the pivot of the issue?

The Ukrainian crisis is actually a new round of adjustment in the post-Cold War international situation. Because of its unique geopolitical status, Ukraine is fostering long-term rivalry between major world powers with the so-called “butterfly effect”.

From the US perspective, the memory of the Cold War, hostility and bias against Russia do not want Russia to intervene militarily in Ukraine or ease the crisis there. Ukraine must be used as a pawn to contain Russia. This contradiction has made the European Union more dependent on the United States for security, thus having the effect of weakening Russia and at the same time Europe as a continent. On the Russian side, its military situation in Ukraine is an act of defence to avoid finding itself with nuclear warheads south of Moscow. Russia does not tolerate the EU and US political interference in Ukraine, as it undermines the geopolitical space of the Russian-led “Eurasian Union”. It is a project designed to achieving market and resource integration of the CIS countries, which have reshaped the status of Russia as a regional power, and Ukraine – which has a very strong manufacturing and production base – is the most critical link.

The implications of the Ukrainian crisis also concern China. At a time when the United States intervenes everywhere but fails to solve problems – thus causing increasing chaos – China, too, feeling besieged by the United States, needs to devise a constructive strategy to change the existing international order that is unfavourable to it and to emerging market countries.

Since the beginning of 2014, Ukraine – a country hardly visible at the time – has become the focus of the global debate. In February 2014, Ukrainians overthrew the legitimately elected President, Viktor Fedorovych Yanukovych, through an unconstitutional uprising. Later,, unrest developed quickly and reached a climax. Firstly, with the Russian military forces’ intervention, Crimea declared independence and joined the Russian Federation by a referendum. In Eastern Ukraine, a separatist movement began with the aim of withdrawing from the country (where the Russian minority accounts for 17.3% of the population), leading to the outbreak of civil war.

The country got out of control: not only did the Eastern part fall into a state of intermittent wars, but the State lost the ability to control its own destiny in the competition between the great powers, and became cannon fodder in their game.

Behind the conflict in Ukraine there is not only the relationship between Kiev and the Eastern region, as well as the escalation of the conflict between Russia and Ukraine, but also the dispute between Russia and the United States of America. The Ukrainian civil war has not only resulted from internal divisions caused by the government’s policy of overthrowing the legitimately elected President, but has also been a proxy war between Russia and the United States.

The United States was the planner of the February 2014 “revolution” and the Ukrainian regime’s external supporting force in the civil war, while the referendum in Crimea and the separatist movement in the east had Russian influence behind them. Russia supplied weapons and equipment to the Russian separatists, and the United States and NATO supplied many weapons and war materials to the Ukrainian government forces. Western “mercenaries” were also in the Ukrainian government forces, but not making the same fuss as the European “volunteers” who fought in the ISIS ranks.

The United States – which is training the Ukrainian government’s troops – plans to send at least 300 soldiers to Ukraine.

The conflict between Russia and the USA in Ukraine has gradually moved from behind the scenes to the frontline. Not long ago, former President Obama admitted that the United States had a political involvement in the regime change in the February 2014 “revolution” in Ukraine and was considering the possibility of openly supplying Ukraine with lethal weapons.

The Ukrainian issue is the turning point in the long-term conflict between Russia and the US-led West. Behind the crisis there is the historical entanglement between the United States and Russia in the post-Cold War period. Without considering the above, it is hard to gain a deep understanding of the struggles taking place in that country. In the first twelve years after the Soviet Union’s implosion, Russia eagerly and naively wanted to integrate itself into the Western world dominated by the United States. Although Yeltsin’s policy of radical Westernization led to an unbearably bleak decade for Russia, Putin did not give up his efforts to forge close ties with the West in his first two terms. During Putin’s honeymoon with the George W. Bush Jr.’s Administration, Russia strongly supported the United States’ counterterrorism strategy and devoted many diplomatic resources to strengthening relations with the West. In a NATO speech, Putin said: “we have nothing to gain from confrontation with the world. Russia is back into the mainstream of civilised nations. It needs nothing but its voice to be heard; everyone’s national interests are respected’.

Nevertheless, a Russia with full self-sustaining diplomatic and military capabilities has always been a US concern. The Russian sphere of influence radiates to the surrounding CIS countries and has gradually become a dominant force. The United States did not tolerate it, although Russia did not challenge the White House’s global power.

Nevertheless, the memory of Cold War in the US strategic construct and the resulting hostility towards Russia made the USA miss the opportunity to incorporate Russia into the Western international system.

We have seen the United States ignore its commitment vis-à-vis Russia whereby NATO would not expand eastwards when the Warsaw Pact was dissolved, and gradually the USA eroded the former Soviet Union’s leeway and sphere of influence.

Eastern Europe and the Baltic States were later included in the EU and NATO. The Bush Administration announced its unilateral withdrawal from the US-Russian Treaty on the Limitation of Anti-Ballistic Missile Systems, and then set up anti-missile and radar monitoring systems covering the entire territory of Russia, from Poland to the Czech Republic, to the detriment of the strategic nuclear balance between the two countries.

At the same time, what was even more intolerable for Russia was that the United States was trying to control the CIS countries’ regimes through political infiltration and unconstitutional riots. In 2003, the USA supported the pro-Western Georgian Saakashvili in his rise to power. From 2004 to 2005 it followed suit in Ukraine, supporting Yushchenko’s government. Russia, which at the time was regaining its strength, adopted a more patient and moderate attitude, curbing protests and countermeasures against the aforementioned US offensive strategies.

In the eyes of Putin’s government and of most Russians, however, the US behaviour completely ignores the Russian security concerns and continues to compress and weaken the Russian strategic space for its survival and development. Before the outbreak of the Ukrainian conflict, the basis of strategic trust in Russia-USA relations had long vanished over the years.

The Ukrainian crisis has become the trigger for the quick deterioration of Russia-USA relations, thus turning Russia’s defensive tactics towards the United States from a moderate resistance into a stern factual warning, as the United States has challenged the Putin government’s strategic bottom line in two ways.

Firstly, Russia cannot stand idle faced with the political situation in which the West controls its surrounding strategic buffer zone, thus enabling NATO to expand eastward to the CIS countries to threaten the security of its borders, and above all, it does not want to give the United States any opportunity to turn Ukraine into a military beachhead to contain and threaten – with the nuclear weapons on its borders – the Russian State. Although the apparent cause of the February 2014 “revolution” was that Yanukovich was obstructing Ukraine’s accession to the EU, NATO and the EU could not simply be mistaken, with the latter acting as a cover for entering the former, which is a military organisation. The historical experience of integration of the three Baltic countries (plus Georgia in fieri) into the Western system and Russia’s security anxiety over Ukraine’s inclusion in NATO are evident, because once the Ukrainian government has fully turned to the West and placed itself at the US service, it can no longer be as independent and non-aligned as before.

Secondly, from the Putin Administration’s viewpoint, Ukraine’s inclusion in the EU – by the US will – is intended to undermine the Russian-led “Eurasian Union”. The “Eurasian Union” is an important commitment of Putin’s third term, and hopes to achieve market and resource integration in the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), as well as reshape the status of Russia as a regional power. With a population of 45 million people and a good industrial base, Ukraine is the most crucial part of it. The United States and the West see the “Eurasian Union” as an expression of Russia’s ambition to geopolitically rebuild the Soviet-Russian empire. The US global hegemony – the so called “manifest destiny” – cannot accommodate the dream of a regional power that Russia is unwilling to give up. This, too, is a structural contradiction between the United States and Russia.

The Western world describes Russia’s military involvement in Ukraine as an aggressive expansion, but from Russia’s viewpoint it is a defensive measure: the country must face security threats as another power is about to intrude into its strategic zone.

Putin’s government has responded to Western economic sanctions with countermeasures. It has formulated new military guidelines to redefine national security threats. It has announced the suspension of the implementation of the Conventional Forces Treaty in Europe and has even rejected the deterrence of Russia as a nuclear power. Putin’s government and the Russian society seem to be prepared to face or endure long-term Western sanctions.

The United States does not want a gradual easing of the Ukrainian crisis, let alone a solution according to a political agreement favourable to Russia. The United States is using Ukraine to foster the contradiction between Russia and Europe. It is using the other-directed Europe – without an elected and therefore unambiguous leadership or even an army – to weaken Russia’s power and strength and make Russia and the EU (which has anyway an interest in good relations with the Kremlin) diplomatically confront and consume each other. The conflict in Ukraine has turned NATO-Russia relations from post-Cold War cooperation to a return to it.

At the NATO Summit of September 4, 2014, Russia was clearly identified as NATO’s “adversary” for the first time since the end of the Cold War. Later Russia revised its military guidelines to list NATO and the United States as the main threats to the country’s national security. The Crimea issue and the Ukrainian crisis have further undermined the already fragile strategic mutual trust between Russia and the United States, and this situation is unlikely to change substantially in the short term.

The Ukrainian conflict has also triggered significant changes in Russia-Europe and USA-Europe relations. The United States successfully used the Malaysia Airlines MH17 crash (caused by Russian separatists on July 17, 2014) as an opportunity to force Europe, Japan and Australia to impose severe sanctions on Russia. This shows again that Europe has no ability to change or influence the US decision-making process in the relationship between great powers.

Putin has made Europe a top priority of his diplomacy for many years, especially during the Putin-Schröder-Chirac Troika era. He had established a tacit cooperative relationship with Germany and France in international affairs, which – to some extent – limited the unilateral US hegemony. This valuable interaction has continued in personal relations with the current leaders of Germany and France. But after the outbreak of the Ukrainian crisis, the EU – which, as stated earlier, lacks well-defined and legitimately elected political leadership and military autonomy – took NATO as its strategic priority, and chose a servile policy towards Russia in line with US interests.

The Ukrainian crisis, however, was not enough to shake the fundamental relationship between Russia and real Europe, not the Europe of politicians and institutions. There is no structural political contradiction between Russia and Europe. Quite the reverse. Economic ties are very close. The economic losses caused by Western sanctions against Russia are mainly borne by EU Member States and now most of these countries would not want sanctions.

EU countries have lost tens of billions of dollars due to the conflict in Ukraine, which is undoubtedly worse for the European economy that has been stagnating for two years, thus adding to the pandemic problems.

The Greek issue and religious extremism are currently the main problems facing Europe. Major European countries such as Germany, France, Italy and Spain are reluctant to carry the burden of Ukraine to bow to the US “manifest destiny”.

Russia has taken advantage of the differences within the EU on the Russia-Ukraine issue to try to loosen relations with European countries, differentiating them internally and showing the contradictions between these countries and US wishes. Through the Ukrainian crisis, the United States has successfully reshaped the former “Soviet Communist beast” with Russia as Europe’s “enemy”, strengthening the EU countries’ security dependence on the White House. The relationship of trust between the United States and Europe, however, is developing in the opposite direction, as the United States is trying to weaken Russia and – at the same time – the EU’s economic strength and “ethical” status.

Looking away from Europe, the continuation of the Ukrainian crisis and the deterioration of USA-Russia relations will certainly influence the positioning of US strategy in Asia-Pacific and China. If the Ukrainian conflict were to continue and turn into in a long-term tug-of-war, the USA could change its current “back to Asia” strategy, which focuses on containing China. From the Realpolitik perspective, the structural contradiction between China and the United States is based on changes in the balance of power, and is much more important than the strategic contradiction between the United States and Russia.

There is no misunderstanding about China’s and the United States’ strategic intentions. China, whose strength is steadily growing, is seeking a corresponding international status, trying to change the US unipolar international order in favour of a multipolar one, which is what the White House is most concerned about and cannot accept.

Therefore, the US policy of containing China in the Asia-Pacific region and Russia’s continued weakening in Europe would go hand in hand. In view of avoiding the weakening of its dominance in key strategic regions, the United States has done its utmost to prevent China and Japan from cooperating in Asia, while – in Europe – it has tried to prevent Russia and the EU from achieving strategic reconciliation and mutual trust – over and above the long-standing and fruitful trade relations. The United States, whose very costly relative power of expansion is declining – with the American people that, unlike the New England elites, have always preferred isolationism and non-intervention abroad – is pushing the international community and regional powers to confront China and Russia so as to maintain the legitimacy of its dominance in the Asia-Pacific region and in Europe. This has proved to be destructive rather than inspiring: just think of the outcomes in Iraq and recently the flight from Afghanistan. Moreover, after the Soviet Union’s collapse, the US-led NATO has continued to expand. This expansion, which has reached as far as Ukraine, is a warning to China that the USA has a deeply rooted realistic geopolitical thinking and mindset when dealing with major relations with countries with their own power and strength. The pressure of the international system led by the United States also against Russia is the reasons why China and Russia have come closer.

Both countries have worked hard to be recognised and accepted by the international community on equal terms and conditions, but the West – in the service of the United States – cannot tolerate the ideas advocated by nation-States with great power aspirations. They cannot accept them on the basis of their characteristics, development model and political way of managing society.

The United States and the EU are used to seeing China and Russia as a set of universally applicable stereotypes and a “we are good, they are bad” way of thinking, interfering in both countries’ internal affairs, using the power of international discourse to attack Chinese and Russian societies, and using all kinds of defamation and demonization at a high political level.

Although Russia had problems in the process of democratic transition, its basic social values and its political system are not fundamentally different from those of the West. Quite the reverse. They are much better than the political systems of US and EU well-known friends. Although China and Russia have different religions, cultures and political systems, they have established relations of mutual respect, equality and independence between major powers – the kind of real independence that is hard to find in the EU itself.

The nature of Sino-Russian relations is different from the unequal relations between the United States and its European, Japanese and oceanic allies: the two countries do not impose themselves, nor do they point the finger at each other, nor does one give orders to the other, as happens in Italy and in many Western countries. They respect each other’s independence and take the geopolitical core of mutual interests into account as reliable partners. At the same time, current Sino-Russian relations are also different from those of Sino-Soviet subordination, based on ideological “friendship” since the 1950s. They are relations of equality and mutual assistance based on the strategic interests of both countries, and not just one, as is the case in the West.

Preserving and deepening the comprehensive strategic partnership of coordination between China and Russia will be the trend and direction of efforts for a long time to come. This is not only in response to the Cold War mentality that is characterized by the arrogance and preconceived ideas typical of the West.

Sino-Russian strategic cooperation and the interest relationship is long-term and structural and has an intrinsic foundation and value. The Ukrainian crisis is only a catalyst for promoting Sino-Russian relations. Since his second term in office (2004-2008), Putin has taken advantage of China’s rise to revitalise Russia. Since then, Sino-Russian strategic cooperation relations have progressed quickly. Although there are objective obstacles to deepening these relations, trust between the parties has strengthened, especially since the outbreak of the Ukrainian crisis. Russia’s eastward strategy and China’s westward strategy have begun to increasingly intersect.

From a practical economic perspective, the Ukrainian crisis and Western sanctions may firstly lead to changes in the global energy model, and the layout of the Russian energy export market has already started to shift towards Asia. For China, which has huge energy needs and seeks to diversify risks through multiple channels, this is an opportunity. China has recently signed a gas agreement with Russia after ten years of negotiations. Western sanctions will certainly force Russia to develop an ever deeper financial relationship with China.

Russian business tycoons are already starting to switch to the credit cards of China UnionPay (the only credit card issuer authorised in the country), converting more US dollars into Hong Kong dollars and depositing them in Chinese banks in Hong Kong. While Sino-Russian bilateral trade, investment and loans have started to increase the scope of deals denominated in local currency and Russia accepts payments in renmimbi yuan. The scope of the renmimbi yuan is expanding, which will have a major impact on the internationalisation of this currency. Western sanctions have already led the Putin government to start promoting the Russian market’s diversification in terms of economic strategy. Economic countermeasures against Europe entail the large-scale transfer of the market for agricultural products elsewhere, and may continue to expand in the field of industrial products. Fast expansion and penetration in the construction of high-speed railways, agriculture, military technology, satellite navigation systems, ports, logistics, IT industry, manufacturing, nuclear energy and many other fields.

Since China and Russia also have common strategic needs that go beyond economic interests, relations between the two countries are increasingly limited to mutual benefit and pragmatic cooperation on a purely economic level. China and Russia are facing the combined forces of the US-led alliance system in East Asia and Europe, respectively. The East China Sea, South China Sea and Ukraine are only specific points of struggle. The central problem is that – as great military powers with a long history and civilisation – neither China nor Russia can accept the path laid out by the United States and the West to determine their own internal affairs and foreign policies.

From a defensive viewpoint, the strategic mutual assistance between China and Russia provides mutual support and solidarity in the face of reality and public pressure in Western countries. During the Ukrainian crisis, Chinese officials endeavoured to ease the Russian-Ukrainian friction and the situation in the country. When the West implemented economic sanctions, and political isolation against Russia, China always opposed the encirclement and political repression and provided strong support to Russia. In the future, China may face a problem similar to the Russia-Ukraine one due to the issues related to Taiwan, the South China Sea and Diaoyu Islands. Hence it will need loyal allies.

Over the last two decades and until a few months ago – from the viewpoint of concrete actions – we have seen that the US strength has gradually lost the ability and willingness to create constructive situations of world peace and prosperity, creating instead situations of conflict that worsened the scenario. The United States used the South China Sea, the Diaoyu Islands and Ukraine to fuel disputes in Asia and Europe and start a series of colour uprisings in Europe – and then the “Arab Springs” in the Middle East, West Asia and North Africa – but it was later unable to remedy the situation, as demonstrated in Afghanistan.

At a time when the United States intervenes everywhere but fails to solve its own self-created problems, there are only chaos and winds of war. This requires that cooperation between Russia and China should not be limited to bilateralism, but should also further unite regional powers such as India, Brazil and the Republic of South Africa and play a greater role in the mechanism of cooperation in emerging markets and in the public and political spheres of countries that can still call themselves independent.

Advisory Board Co-chair Honoris Causa Professor Giancarlo Elia Valori is an eminent Italian economist and businessman. He holds prestigious academic distinctions and national orders. Mr. Valori has lectured on international affairs and economics at the world’s leading universities such as Peking University, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and the Yeshiva University in New York. He currently chairs “International World Group”, he is also the honorary president of Huawei Italy, economic adviser to the Chinese giant HNA Group. In 1992 he was appointed Officier de la Légion d’Honneur de la République Francaise, with this motivation: “A man who can see across borders to understand the world” and in 2002 he received the title “Honorable” of the Académie des Sciences de l’Institut de France. “

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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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