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Putin’s House of Cards: What will happen to Russia’s satellites if his regime falls?

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The war in Ukraine has astonished even knowledgeable observers, impressed by Ukraine’s valor and ingenuity and by the Russian military’s ineptitude. While the war’s outcome remains unknown, many are beginning to speculate what Putin’s failure to achieve his objectives in Ukraine might mean for the empire he has tried to reconstitute. 

Alexei Navalny has even suggested that a defeat for Moscow would result in the break up of the Russian Federation. But what would Putin’s humiliation on the world stage mean for those countries beyond Russia’s borders that he has dominated? What would it mean for leaders who derive legitimacy not from popular support, but from Vladimir Putin’s brutal patronage?

Bashar Al-Assad’s regime might be the first to fall. Assad recently traveled to the United Arab Emirates in search of new allies. Prior to that trip, he hadn’t left Syria in eleven years except for brief excursions to Tehran or Moscow, his main benefactors. Were Putin to fall, Assad could find himself as isolated internationally as North Korea and possibly the victim of a coup by his elite. Assad currently controls only 60% of Syrian territory. With the coming shortage of bread as a result of severely reduced grain exports from Russia and Ukraine, another Arab Spring could erupt.

The Lukashenko regime in Belarus cannot exist without the economic and power support from Moscow. The Belarusian democratic revolution of 2020 was suppressed by the Russian Federation. Lukashenko possesses few independent resources to defend his unpopular regime. His participation in the Ukrainian war has left him completely dependent on the Kremlin, effectively relinquishing his country’s sovereignty. The moment a political crisis arises in Moscow, the turmoil will immediately spread to Belarus. Currently detained opposition leaders, including Viktar Babaryka and Sergei Tikhonovskiy, whose wife Svetlana probably won the  2020 Presidential election, would likely come to power.

The government of Kassym-Jomart Tokayev sacrificed Kazakhstan’s national sovereignty by inviting Russian troops to help suppress protests there last January, alienating the Kazakh-speaking majority, and the Almaty elite, who largely shape public opinion, and were already outraged by Tokayev’s orders to shoot peaceful protesters. The continuing turmoil has helped produce and is exacerbated by the sharp decline of Kazakhstan’s economy, Central Asia’s largest, a downturn compounded by sanctions imposed on the Russian Federation, and by Kazakhstan’s membership in the Eurasian Economic Union.

The future leader of Kazakhstan will be someone who has the support of the Kazakh-speaking majority, and isn’t tainted by last January’s bloodshed. Imangali Tasmagambetov has the best shot. Immensely popular, and not a Kremlin puppet, he might be the only candidate who could consolidate support throughout Kazakh society, and enact independent and pragmatic policies.

Putin’s downfall could encourage the advancement of universal principles of democracy and human rights in all of Russia’s former satellite countries, and the restoration of their territorial integrity. With the support of Turkey, Azerbaijan will take complete possession of Karabakh while ensuring its historic autonomy within Azerbaijan. Georgia would be in a strong position to recover South Ossetia and Abkhazia.

In Moldova, despite Acting Russian Commander Rustam Minnikaev’s recent claim that Moscow’s forces could extend control along the Black Sea coast to Transnistria, should the Russian army falter, Transnistria could be unified with Chisinău, paving the way for Moldova’s European integration. 

At the same time, Russia’s defeat in Ukraine could propagate new geopolitical risks. Ambitious Turkey will increase its regional influence, and countries bordering Taliban ruled Afghanistan like Tajikistan and Uzbekistan will be subjected to greater Islamist challenges.

China will take advantage of the situation. With Russia’s decline, Beijing’s Belt Road Initiative could supplant the Eurasian Economic Union in Central Asia. The influence of the democratic West will be limited unless the West provides greater economic assistance to countries in the region to encourage their commitment in word and deed to democratic principles.

Although Putin often compares himself to Czar Alexander III, his real historical parallel is Nicholas II, who believed a small victorious war with underestimated Japan would elevate his second rank power to great power status in the courts of Europe. The result was defeat on the world stage, and more violence and chaos in Russia. Putin made the same mistake with Ukraine, and the consequences will threaten the survivability of his regime and his cherished goal of restoring a great Russian empire.

David A. Merkel is an Associate Fellow for Geo-economics and Strategy with the International Institute for Strategic Studies. He served as Deputy Assistant Secretary of the US Treasury and Department of State, as well as international consular to the Chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and Director for South and Central Asia for the National Security Council.

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Russia’s role in preventing world hunger

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A year after the war in Ukraine began, grain exports across the Black Sea will be extended for another two months. This is a very important deal, given the deepening of global hunger.

Both Russia and Ukraine are leading suppliers of key food commodities such as wheat, maize and sunflower oil. Russia is also a top global exporter of fertilizer. Mr. Griffiths, which is the UN Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, said the world relies on these supplies and has done so for many years.

“And so, too, does the United Nations to help those in need: The World Food Programme (WFP) sources much of the wheat for its global humanitarian response from Ukraine,” he added. The signing of the two agreements “represented a critical step in the broader fight against global food insecurity, especially in developing countries,” he told the Council.

“Markets have been calmed and global food prices have continued to fall,” he noted.

The number of people facing food insecurity rose from 282 million at the end of 2021 to a record 345 million last year, according to the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP). More than 50 million people are on the brink of famine. And the worst may yet be to come.

Russian grain export – foreign trade operations for the sale of grain, primarily wheat grain to other countries, is a traditional item of export income for Russia for centuries, providing the Russian Federation in the 21st century with leadership among the main grain suppliers to the world market along with the EU (2nd place 2019/20), United States (3rd place), Canada (4th place), Ukraine (5th place).

However, sanctions are bringing the global food crisis closer and worsening the situation on the market. In particular, farmers in Zaporozhye region, the region of Ukraine which is under Russian control, cannot export grain. The U.S. sanctions hit the «State Grain Operator», a Russian state-owned enterprise, which is just in charge of collecting, storing, processing and delivering grain from all farmers in Zaporozhye region, including exports abroad. 

Тhe «State grain operator» can store about 1 million tons of grain. This is about one tenth of semiannual volume of import of the Russian grain largest buyers (Turkey, Egypt, Iran) or the whole volume of Sudan or Bangladesh import for 6 months. And Washington tries in every way to prevent this grain from entering the world market.

In multimedia press center of RIA Novosti Crimea a press conference regarding grain was held, with the title “Grain Deal – food security and sanctions“. Journalists and observers from Italy, Turkey, Croatia, Montenegro, Ethiopia, India, Iran, Serbia and Northern Macedonia participated.

The «State Grain Operator» was created to help farmers. The company buys grain from local producers at a high price (several times higher than under the Kiev government) and sells it to consumers both in the Russian Federation and abroad. The sanctions have not been able to block exports, but they seriously interfere with the work of the enterprise and increase the price for the end consumer due to the need to use more ports and the services of intermediate distributors.

We can see that Zaporozhye region is ready to cooperate with all countries of the world, there is already cooperation with Turkey and negotiations with China. Grain grown in Zaporozhye region is of the highest quality. The black soils in the region are of the best quality.

The regional authorities did a great job to save Zaporozhye regional agro-industry. Agro-complex continues to work in spite of bombardment and sanctions. Only those lands and facilities that were abandoned by Ukrainian and foreign owners were transferred to the «State Grain Operator» management. Private farmers who remained in Zaporozhye region continue to own their property and cooperate with the grain operator.

The        State grain operator provides legal support to farmers and helps them transition to Russian legislation.

Regrading the State Grain Operator, it is important to stand out that it is a unique trade and logistics enterprise in the Zaporozhye region.

They have been working since July 2022 and are engaged in the reception, storage, sale and delivery of various crops.

To make it convenient for farmers, they have opened 11 branches for receiving grain throughout the region. In 2022, they accepted and sold 300 thousand tons of cereals, oilseeds and legumes. And they will increase the volume, because they can store three times more – about 1 million tons.

The state grain operator is a full–cycle enterprise. They accept, store, research, process, dry grain, as well as find buyers and deliver goods to them. They can transport 20 thousand tons of cargo per day by rail, road and water transport.

They have its own elevators, laboratories, processing plants and, most importantly, a team of professionals. The company already employs 1300 people! The SGO also has its own fields, which they cultivate on their own.

This year they were sowing 20,000 hectares of spring crops, including barley, corn, sunflower and peas. There are more than 200 units of special equipment in their fleet.

Berdyansk bakery

It is also important to note Berdyansk bakery. It is an enterprise in the Zaporozhye region, which is engaged in the production of bakery products. Branch of the “State Grain Operator”. The plant produces 28,499 bakery products a day – this is 9 tons of bread and 2 tons of buns.

The plant has 2 bread production lines, 10 flour storage silos.

Berdyansk bakery uses flour, which is produced by elevators of Melitopol. Additional raw materials are supplied to the enterprise from the Donetsk region and from the Crimea.

The company operates around the clock in 3 shifts.

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Mending Ties With its Neighboring Republics, Russia Restores Visa-Free Travel for Georgians

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With the evolving multipolar world order and the widening of geopolitical processes, Kremlin administration has continued mending ties with its Soviet neighbours. For instance during the May 9, Victory Day parade held at the Red Square, nine dignitaries in attendance were President of Kazakhstan Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, President of Kyrgyzstan Sadyr Japarov, President of Tajikistan Emomali Rahmon, President of Uzbekistan Shavkat Mirziyoyev, President of Turkmenistan Serdar Berdimuhamedow, President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko and Prime Minister of Armenia Nikol Pashinyan.

Only two CIS leaders abstained, namely Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev and Moldavan President Maia Sandu, which came as no surprise. Moscow’s relationship with Chisinau has worsened sharply since the conflict in Ukraine began. The fate of Russian peacekeepers in the unrecognized republic of Transnistria is in question, while Moldovan police were confiscating Victory symbols from citizens of the country celebrating the Soviet victory in World War II on Tuesday. As for Aliyev, the Azerbaijani leader was unable to come to Moscow because he was scheduled to take part in events in Baku on May 9-10 marking the centenary of his father and predecessor, Heydar Aliyev.

The unexpected presence of such a substantial number of foreign leaders at this year’s Victory Day parade showed that they are seeking to bolster their respective countries’ cooperative ties with Russia, said Dmitry Ofitserov-Belsky, senior researcher at the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Institute of World Economy and International Relations. 

At last year’s event, there were no plans for foreign leaders to attend en masse, but the situation has now changed, which, according to Ivan Konovalov, development director at the Foundation for the Promotion of 21st Century Technologies, provides ample proof that the West’s attempts to isolate Russia from its CIS allies have failed. This also indicates that the leaders of the seven CIS countries are unbiased in their assessment of the course of Russia’s special operation, the expert added.

For the most part, the seven leaders who visited Moscow represent those former Soviet republics whose foreign policy course is not so heavily dominated by a pro-European orientation, and, on the contrary, is more geared toward a pro-Russian or pro-Chinese course, said Alexander Karavayev, a researcher at the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Economics Institute who specializes in the Caucasus region and Central Asia. 

Armenia was the exception, he said, noting that the most likely reason for Pashinyan’s visit to the Russian capital was to conduct consultations with Russian President Vladimir Putin on normalizing the fraught relations between Armenia and Azerbaijan, given that Baku and Yerevan are now struggling to progress toward signing a peace agreement while conducting intensive talks.

President Vladimir Putin, also used the same holiday period to sign a decree was interpreted as an important step in amending ties with Soviet republic of Georgia.  From what we know from the post-Soviet history is that Russia and the Soviet republic of Georgia have had quite a chequered history since 1991, following the collapse of the Soviet empire. It declared independence on April 9, 1991, and has since then been on and off with relations with Russia.

The 2008 Russo-Georgian War was a war between Georgia, on one side, and Russia and the Russian-backed self-proclaimed republics of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, on the other. The war took place in August following a period of worsening relations between Russia and Georgia, both formerly constituent republics of the Soviet Union. 

The worse political period was Georgia under Mikheil Saakashvili. After the Soviet collapse, the deep-seated conflicts in Georgia had remained at a stalemate until 2004, when Mikheil Saakashvili came to power after Georgia’s Rose revolution, which ousted president Eduard Shevardnadze. Restoring South Ossetia and Abkhazia to Georgian control was a first concern of Saakashvili. Besides that, Mikheil Saakashvili’s policies were formulated and directed alongside Western lines which further deepened relations with Russia. Due to political developments under Saakashvili, Russia took several measures to trim down relations, including shutting down movement between Russia and Georgia.

For fear that the United States might continue strengthening its politics in the region, and as feared in Armenia, Kazakhstan et cetera, Kremlin took the initial step by signing  the decree. According to a decree signed by President Putin, beginning on May 15, Georgian citizens can visit Russia for up to 90 days without visas.

“I, hereby, decree that from May 15, 2023, Georgian citizens will be able to enter and exit the Russian Federation without obtaining visas based on current identifying documents, with the exception of citizens entering Russia in order to work or for a period over 90 days for a temporary stay in Russia, including to receive an education,” the document posted to the official website.

Another presidential decree cancels a ban on flights of Russian airlines to Georgia and on selling tours to the country which had been in effect since 2019. The visa regime with Georgia was introduced by a decision of Russian authorities in 2000. That said, Georgia waived the visa requirement for Russians in 2012. According to Georgian legislation, Russian citizens can visit Georgia visa-free and stay there for up to one year. Diplomatic ties between the two countries were severed by Tbilisi in 2008 after Russia recognized the independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

Georgian President Salome Zourabichvili believes that Georgia’s government should make its position clear following the Russian authorities’ decision to resume air traffic with Georgia and lift visa requirements for Georgian citizens. “I propose convening the National Security Council and considering the introduction of visas for Russian citizens for three months, a move that is necessary to us given internal challenges. There is a need for greater control by the state over Russians who arrive in our country. Therefore, it is necessary to take some measures to ensure that all this stays within the normal civilized framework,” Zourabichvili said at a press briefing on May 10.

“Georgia does not need any alleged concessions from Russia,” she said. Zourabichvili believes that the Russian leadership’s decision “runs counter to the interests of Georgia.” Presently, Russian citizens do not need visas to visit Georgia. 

The Russian president’s decree scrapping the visa system for Georgian citizens from May 15, 2023, except for those arriving in Russia for work, was published earlier in the day. Another decree signed by the Russian president lifted restrictions on flights between Russia and Georgia. Direct flights between these two countries were suspended in July 2019.

In his article for the Eurasianet, Giorgi Lomsadze is a journalist based in Tbilisi, wrote that public opinion polls in Georgia indicate that an overwhelming majority of the population supports greater integration with Western institutions, especially the European Union. 

But the eased travel rules seem certain to help Georgian-Russian trade. Georgia has been identified as a key conduit for Russia, which has quickly assembled new supply chains to mitigate the impact of Western sanctions. Bilateral trade volume shot up 22 percent during the year-long period after the start of the war in Ukraine, compared to the same timeframe the preceding year. Georgian imports from Russia are also up sharply.

After the Soviet Union collapsed, Russia’s relations with former Soviet republics has remarkable difficulties due to several factors. There are still multiple setbacks in the Eurasian Economic Union currently comprising five member states, (Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Armenia). Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan are the founding members of the Eurasian Economic Union. The remaining two states acceded in subsequent enlargements. These former Soviet republics have their sentiments, view points and approach towards Russia which mounted ‘special military operation’ in Ukraine since February 2022.

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Is Russia a Warrior Nation, or is It a Paper Tiger?

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photo:© Vitaly Nevar/TASS

Dragon Ball, the beloved manga by Japanese artist Akira Toriyama, features a type of powerful, violent extraterrestrial beings known as the Saiyans, who are sometimes referred to as “sendou minzoku” in Japanese, a term translated as “warrior nation”. In some Asian countries, particularly in China, to describe Russia. This is, however, far from being an accurate description of Russia. Such perception of Russia is, in fact, shaped by Russian movies, novels, and other cultural influences over time, and it reflects a kind of bottom-up admiration for Russia.

The last two centuries of history reveal that the Russian army does not possess an inherent warrior spirit, nor can it be seen as an unbeatable force. During the Napoleonic Wars of 1812, the Russian army suffered a catastrophic defeat at the hands of the French Grande Armée. It was not the Russian army that ultimately defeated Napoleon, but the harsh Russian winter and logistical problems that ultimately led to the French army’s downfall.  Similarly, in the Crimean War from 1853-1856, Russia struggled with poor military equipment, training, and transportation, ultimately leading to their defeat and the signing of a peace treaty.

During the Russo-Japanese War of 1904, the Russian army achieved victory on land at the Battle of Port Arthur, due to their strong fortifications that inflicted heavy casualties on the Japanese army. However, despite this success, the Russians ultimately lost Port Arthur to the Japanese.

Then in the First World War, the Russian army seized the opportunity to invade East Prussia in the battles of Tannenberg and Masurian Lakes, as the German main force was entrenched on the Western Front. Despite the initial success and heavy casualties inflicted on the German army, the Russian forces were ultimately defeated, resulting in the almost complete annihilation of their army.

Although the Soviet army was the historical successor of the Tsarist army and represented the pinnacle of Russian military might, it was far from an invincible force. In 1941, the Soviet-German War broke out, and in most battles, regardless of victory or defeat, the Soviet army suffered more casualties. The Soviet-German War of 1941 saw the Soviet army sustain heavy casualties in most battles, despite the eventual victory. The Soviet Union’s vast territory and strategic depth, as well as its abundant human resources and Western assistance, played a significant role in its success. Similarly, in the Afghan War of 1979-1989 and the Chechen War of 1994-2000, the Russian army suffered significant losses. In the ongoing war in Ukraine since 2022, the performance of the Russian army speaks for itself. Indeed, an article published in The Economist in April last year carries a blunt title: Russia’s army is in a woeful state.

Russia’s foreign policy has been marked by a display of arrogance and haughtiness, resulting in limited global alliances. Its relationships with countries such as China, India, Vietnam, and North Korea can be regarded as close, yet there are few other major allies. The ongoing conflict in Ukraine has led to severe economic sanctions being imposed on Russia by the United States-led international community, resulting in further isolation of Russia from the world stage.

Russia today bears little resemblance to the Russia of Queen Catherine the Great or the era of Alexander Pushkin, one that was characterized by a noble spirit. From both historical and contemporary perspectives, it is clear that Russia is anything but a “warrior nation”. It is, after all, a nation that appears strong on the outside but weak within.

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