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Is Russia’s invasion of Ukraine returning the world to bipolarity?

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On February 24, 2022, Russia launched an unprovoked attacked on Ukraine. Russia’s actions can be explained by its grand ambition to expanding its sphere of influence to cover areas occupied by countries of the former USSR and create a safe buffer between it and the Atlantic Alliance – North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO). That the war in Ukraine has further polarised the world is an understatement. Several countries have reacted following this attack with most Western countries, the European Union and its allies taking severe actions and sanctions in retaliation against Russia. Others, such as China and India have not condemned Russia’s actions and have cordial relations with the Kremlin. It is interesting to note that since launching the war, Russia has made over $97 billion from sale of fuel and gas alone because of these strong partnerships. Together, these embolden President Putin and his allies to continue a trajectory that further polarises the world. Russia envisions a bipolarity where it champions a group of countries that seek to upend the US hegemony and liberal world order. Probably, this is where China and Russia’s interests intersect. This paper argues that the response of European Union, its allies and sympathisers of Ukraine is returning the world into bipolarity, the phenomenon that characterised the Cold War era. It also argues that security interests usually trample over economic partnerships. This will be done by analysing the immediate response of Ukraine to the invasion, the actions of the US, EU and some specific countries. Beyond Europe, the paper also considers the reaction of some countries in the Indo-Pacific, Asia, Middle east and Africa.

The UN held its first emergency meeting in nearly four decades led by the US and supported by 94 other countries on February 27, 2022. This meeting was occasioned by Russia’s earlier veto that blocked a resolution involving the organisation’s 12-member Security Council that called on the Kremlin to halt its invasion and withdraw its forces from Ukraine on February 25, 2022. The decision by Russia to raise the readiness of its nuclear forces was denounced in the resolution. With the necessary two-thirds of the member states voting in favour, it was adopted. Despite this development however, the war continues and there has not being any sign of a ‘retreat’ on the part of the Kremlin nor a ‘surrender’ in the case of Ukraine.

NATO, often known as the North Atlantic Alliance, is a military alliance made up of 30 countries – 28 European countries, the United States, and Canada. Formed in 1949, NATO’s fundamental goal is to safeguard the allies’ freedom and security by political and military means. It became a formidable force that contributed to the success of the US and its allies over the Russian Federation during the Cold War. NATO leaders reaffirmed their decision at the 2008 Bucharest Summit that Ukraine would join the Alliance, with the NATO Membership Action Plan (MAP) as an integral part of the process, and Ukraine’s right to determine its own future and foreign policy course without outside interference at the June 2021 Brussels summit. A development that the Kremlin had opposed until now. NATO’s key, traditional principle is “collective defense.” This means an attack on one or more members is considered an attack on all members. This principle has been invoked once following the 9/11 attacks where European planes were deployed to patrol American skies. It is safe to argue that Kremlin’s pre-emptive strike/attack on Ukraine is, therefore, aimed at preventing potential conflict with NATO once Ukraine’s membership becomes déjà vu.

As expected, NATO condemned Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, which is an independent, peaceful, and democratic country and a close NATO ally, in the strongest possible terms. The Alliance urged President Putin to put an end to the conflict as soon as possible, withdraw all his troops from Ukraine without restrictions, and engage in meaningful negotiation. The initial Western response was economic. The US is imposing the strongest sanctions against Russia in history which are unlikely to change the form of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s hostility according to Jonathan Guyer. The UK has openly and unequivocally condemned the Kremlin government for what it has referred to as an unprovoked and premeditated war against Ukraine. The UK government lined up a range of economic, humanitarian and defensive military assistance to Ukraine while imposing sanctions on Russia and Belarus. The assistance includes a £400 million humanitarian aid for vital medical supplies including £220m for humanitarian assistance. It also sent about 5,000 anti-tank guns, anti-air missiles, armoured vehicles, small arms, and non-lethal supplies like as helmets, body armour, meals, and medical equipment.

Arguably, this invasion has caused a shakeup in Europe’s security architecture and many countries in the region are beginning to re-evaluate the security of their states. NATO has enhanced its status and willingness to defend its members while new countries are taking steps to join the military alliance. In an interesting twist, some European countries that have hitherto been neutral have expressed their desire to join NATO. Despite earlier reports that denied Finland’s intention to join NATO, the Prime Minister Sanna Marin told Finns that “Russia was not the neighbour they thought it was” in April 2022. Since joining the Partnership for Peace programme in 1994, Finland has had formal connections with NATO. Since the end of the Cold War, the country has maintained strong relations with the organisation, and the potential of membership has been a topic of discussion in the country. Following the Russian invasion of Ukraine in 2022, the argument shifted in favour of NATO affiliation, and the country together with Sweden applied for membership on May 18, 2022. The decision of these two countries to join NATO is becoming a turning point to switch Europe back to bipolarity. Surprisingly, Turkey, a key NATO member expressed its opposition to the application of the two Nordic countries to the organisation until recently. Just two days after lifting their objection, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, president of Turkey has threatened to stall the application process should these two countries fail to meet Turkey’s expectations. Without the support of all NATO members, Sweden and Finland could not have join the military alliance. Meanwhile, Vladimir Putin had said that the decision by Finland and Sweden to join the 30-member military alliance does not directly threaten Moscow, but any expansion of military alliance will prompt a response from Moscow.

Just as other countries, Germany has been forced to face the harsh reality that its years of demilitarisation by design and neglect require a complete overhaul. German Chancellor Olaf Scholz convened emergency meetings in Berlin with his closest advisors two days after President Vladimir Putin began the invasion, culminating in the most drastic turnaround in German security and defence strategy since World War II ended. With a cash injection of €100 billion ($110 billion), the German parliament approved plans to bolster its undermanned and outgunned military and commit to spending at least 2% of GDP on defence in the coming years, a NATO aim previously accepted only with vague guarantees or scorned outright by German politicians.

On June 9, NATO Headquarters hosted a meeting of the NATO-Ukraine Commission at the level of defence ministers. Ministers discussed Ukraine’s defence policy amid a changing security environment, as well as the reform of the country’s armed forces and the country’s continued support for NATO-led operations. The meeting was part of efforts to coordinate their actions and provide more tailor-made support to Ukraine even as Russia makes gains in the eastern Donbas region. The meeting also highlighted the unity among NATO and partners and meeting of the working group on Ukraine comprising some 50 countries. For Ukraine’s Euro-Atlantic integration objectives to be realised, allied ministers emphasised the significance of comprehensive security sector reforms. They recognised progress made in executing the National Security Sector Review, which aims to bring Ukraine’s entire security sector in line with Euro-Atlantic standards and principles and pledged to continue to assist the process through the Joint Working Group on Defense Reform.

Countries outside of Europe have been drawn into this conflict and ensuing rivalry that is taking centre stage in global discussion. In the Middle east for example, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine have been inconsistent and erratic. Both countries sided China and India abstaining on a resolution condemning Russia’s invasion on February 25. These two countries, together with some other states in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) are courting a path to avoid the ‘wrath’ of either the US or Russia and their potential allies. Just before the invasion, the GCC countries called for peaceful political settlements as events were unfolding in Ukraine. Ahmed Aboudouh insists that this move is an attempt on the part of the GCC to reveal their “desire to sit on the fence and resist being drawn into the diplomatic saga around it”. In an interesting turn of events, Saudi Arabia and the UAE voted in favour of “territorial integrity of Ukraine” to strongly support Ukraine in a United Nations General Assembly Resolution 68/262 in March 2022.

China’s stance on the attacks have left many wondering as to Beijing’s commitment to becoming a responsible global leader. Prior to the invasion, Russian leader Vladimir Putin had met his Chinese counterpart, Xi Jinping in a closed-door meeting in Beijing during the winter Olympic games in which both countries pledged to support each other. China and Russia currently enjoy the best relations they have had since the late 1950s. Although they have no formal alliance, the two countries do have an informal agreement to coordinate diplomatic and economic moves and build up an alliance against the United States. As a result, China voted in support of a UN Security Council resolution proposed by Russia that would ease humanitarian aid to Ukraine during the acme of the debates surrounding the conflict. Interestingly, the resolution makes no demands for an end to the conflict or condemns Russia’s role in the humanitarian disaster. Le Yucheng, a senior Chinese diplomat, told Andrey Denisov, the Russian ambassador to China, on April 19 that China would always increase strategic cooperation with Russia and jointly preserve the common interests of both sides, regardless of how the world situation unfolds. China would undoubtedly lose Ukraine as a key commercial partner and a crucial member of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) in Eastern Europe as the war in Ukraine continues according to Wang Li.

In faraway Africa, Jude Mutah and Heather Ashby argue that the conflict is upending long-term trends and provoking conflicting responses from governments. Increased sanctions are forcing the Kremlin to expand its contacts with countries outside of Europe and the United States, leaving African countries vulnerable to food shortages and energy project finance. While some see this as a chance to create economic capability on the continent, others believe it has given the Russian government the opportunity to rethink its African policy. In the meantime, African countries have endeavoured to stay away from the politics and tension surrounding the conflict between Russia and Ukraine by abstaining from openly supporting or condemning the attacks. Out of the 54 African countries, 28 of them representing 51.85 percent, voted in support of Ukraine at the UN Assembly in March 2022. Eritrea was the only African country that voted against the resolution. However, Mahama Tawat argues that if one considers abstention to be halfway between a yes and a no, then nearly a third (17 out of 54) chose not to take a side, 8 countries being absent. It is not clear how long African countries can stay neutral as there are no signs of the end conflict ending soon. In the meantime, the current Chair of the African Union (AU), Macky Sall, led an African delegation to Russia in June 2022 to talk about both cessation of hostilities and impact on food supplies.

Arguably, Europe is gradually returning to the alliance structure and bipolar world system that characterised the Cold War era, which is spreading to other parts of the world. One thing has become clear – security interests dominate economic partnerships, and that the safety and security of country always prevails over other interests. The actions of countries that support Russia and continue to do business with it have emboldened the Kremlin further enhancing the ensuing bipolar international structure. More countries are also being forced to take sides by choice or out of necessity. Countries who have chosen to remain neutral can only hope that the conflict will end soon so that they are not compelled to choose a side in a prolong war situation.

Isaac is a PhD candidate at the University of Western Australia, Political Science & International Relations department. His research interests cover China-Africa relations broadly, peace and security in Africa, international security and migration. His PhD research focuses on China’s increasing security engagement in Africa. He is also a Postgraduate Fellow at the UWA Africa Research & Engagement Centre (AfREC) and is an Associate Fellow of the Higher Education Academy (AFHEA). He holds a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science from the University of Ghana, Legon and a master’s degree in International Relations from Jilin University, China.

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The Moscow–Tehran Axis: Alliance without Rigid Obligations

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Russia and Iran are finding ever more points of convergence in their foreign policies and across the domain of economic cooperation. It is no coincidence that a record number of high-level visits between the two countries have taken place this year, the most recent being Vladimir Putin’s visit to Tehran to take part in the Syria summit of the leaders of Russia, Turkey and Iran.

Fostering relations with Iran, along with the continued functioning of the Astana Process, demonstrate Moscow’s increasing use of pragmatism in its foreign policy: any non-Western power is a welcomed partner, even if there are contradictions and inconsistencies in its relations with Russia.

Biden in the Background

The Astana summit and Putin’s visit to Tehran came immediately after U.S. President Joe Biden’s tour of the Middle East. Despite numerous commentators suggesting that the Russian leader’s visit to Iran was a “response” to the initiative of the American president, there is no real substance to this argument. What Biden’s trip does do is place the trilateral meeting in the Iranian capital into a wider context.

The Middle East is one of those regions where the presence of the United States and Russia matters, although the dynamics of their engagement are diametrically opposed to one another. While Washington is gradually pulling out of the region that holds less and less allure for the White House, Moscow is doing exact the opposite, being increasingly pulled into the processes unfolding in the Middle East.

The basic approaches of the two sides differ as well. The United States has become accustomed to finding allies in the region so that they can become conductors of its policy, while at the same time looking for key troublemakers that it can try to contain and isolate. Russia, on the other hand, does not have friends or enemies in the region. Over the past decade, Moscow has been trying to act as a universal mediator, maintaining relations with all the key forces in the Middle East.

Against the backdrop of the events in Ukraine, the United States has set about trying to turn Russia into an international pariah. Moscow sees the Middle East as a possible route to circumventing the sanctions, even if partially, so it is only logical that Washington would seek to isolate Russia in the region. This is proving somewhat difficult, however, even with its impressive list of allied states and the lukewarm reaction of Middle Eastern countries to Russia’s special military operation in Ukraine. For one thing, no one in the Middle East wants to be faced with a choice between Moscow and Washington. In the Middle East, Russia remains a player to be reckoned with, and its interests coincide with those of almost all the countries in the region—including Washington’s partners—on a whole range of issues.

Take Turkey, for example, a NATO member who has serious disagreements with Russia over Syria, Libya and the South Caucasus. Worse still, Ankara has openly criticized Moscow’s actions in Ukraine, lending active support to Kiev by supplying hi-tech weapons. At the same time, Turkey, much as Russia, does not hide its annoyance at the U.S.-established order in the regions adjacent to its territory, notably the Middle East and the Eastern Mediterranean. Let’s not forget Russia–Iran trade relations as trade turnover between the two amounted to some $33 billion in 2021 and the bilateral trade is expected to reach even greater heights by year-end 2022. Given this, Ankara will clearly want to continue dialogue with Moscow, both with regard to Syria and on other issues.

A somewhat similar situation has been the case for the Arab countries in the Persian Gulf. Not a single one of these has joined the Western sanctions against Russia, and the United Arab Emirates is turning into something of a hub for Russian capital. Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has made it clear that his country places its agreements with OPEC+, where Russia is a key player, above U.S. interests, and Joe Biden’s visit did nothing to change this.

Outside the Persian Gulf, President of Egypt Abdel Fattah El-Sisi has also refused to pursue a policy to isolate Moscow. Cairo has been one of the biggest importers of Russian weapons in recent years. And, like the United Arab Emirates, the country is also cooperating with Russia on Libya. Finally, there is another important U.S. partner, namely, Israel. Despite some friction with Moscow, Tel Aviv is still willing to cooperate with Russia to sustain its policy of containing the Iranian threat in Syria. In other words, all these players have more than enough reason to turn their backs on the binary approach that Washington imposes on them, where they are forced to choose between the United States and Russia.

The Astana Model

It would be quite a mistake to dub Joe Biden’s tour of the Middle East a complete failure. He got some wins here and there, such as the Saudi decision to open flights to and from Israel. Besides, it is unlikely that the U.S. was harboring any real hopes to reverse the regional alignment, including the attitudes towards Russia, all in a single trip. What is telling here is the situation as such. The events in Ukraine were indeed a turning point in relations between Moscow and the West—however, the Middle East did not undergo any major changes until February 24, 2022, and later.

Today, the situation in the region is much different to the Cold War-style polarization that analysts bring up so frequently. The Middle East of 2022 is a complex combination of multi-vector approaches of various countries. All this is not so much a reflection of Washington’s weakness as it is an illustration of the fact that Russia continues to be an important and legitimate player for Egypt, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Israel and the United Arab Emirates, and this is unlikely to change any time soon.

It is this difficult political climate that gave rise to the Astana format, a platform where the parties with different approaches—and even waging a proxy war against each other—can come to the negotiating table as partners who resolve issues. True, this format may only have worked in relation to the Syrian dossier in years gone by, but the most recent summit took the paradoxical relations between the countries to a new level. Turkish drones carry out targeted attacks on the Russian Army, which in turn shoots them down. But this did not prevent Vladimir Putin and Recep Tayyip Erdogan from sitting at the same table and having a constructive conversation at the meeting in Tehran. Moreover, one of the main topics on the summit’s side-lines did not even have anything to do with the region, and that was finding a solution to the issue of exporting grain through the Black Sea.

This has nothing to do with banal hypocrisy on the part of sides with opposing interests. The participants in the Astana summit were not hiding behind smiles, sticking their middle finger up at each other from inside their pockets… no, they held a constructive dialogue. The grain issue was eventually resolved thanks to the negotiations between Turkey and Russia, and the summit in Tehran was largely responsible for getting the two together in the first place.

The Astana summit is swiftly turning into a model that reflects the basic principles of Russia’s foreign policy. What this model essentially boils down to is political realism in its purest form, where everyone is invited to cooperate, regardless of accumulated problems and disagreements, assuming the sides have overlapping interests.

And the invitation has effectively been extended to the West: despite the proxy conflict waged between Europe and Russia on the Ukrainian soil and despite the economic war in the form of sanctions, Moscow is nevertheless prepared to sell oil and gas to Europe. “Gazprom has always fulfilled and will continue to fulfil its obligations in full. If that’s what European countries want, of course, as they are the ones closing the pipes,” Vladimir Putin noted calmly at a press conference following the Tehran summit.

At the same time, the Astana format stands at odds with the traditional integration models of the West, which believes similar values to be a prerequisite for alliances. Certainly, the Americans do not always follow this approach. Still, even those relationships where common values typically play little if any role—such as that between the United States and Saudi Arabia—become bogged down by human rights issues (in this case, Biden’s condemnation of the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi). In the present situation, we see that the Astana model of radical realism allows Russia, in such a difficult situation, to pursue dialogue with all players in the Middle East, while the United States is facing problems talking to its traditional allies.

Engaging Iran

With the relations with the West collapsed owing to the Ukraine crisis, Russia’s policy towards Iran is increasingly perceived as a policy case that could be heading in a promising direction. Putin’s trip to Iran did not bring any significant breakthroughs, although news reports about the summit and events surrounding it were overwhelmingly positive. One newsworthy item, for example, was the launch of the rial/rouble pair on the Tehran Currency exchange on the day of the summit, while another was a memorandum signed between National Iranian Oil Company (NIOC) and Gazprom to involve investments of approximately $40 billion into Iran’s oil sector.

Some important news came out shortly after the Russian President’s visit, such as the decision to increase the number of flights between Russia and Iran up to 35 per week, or the announcement that an agreement on the supply of aircraft parts and maintenance work was being drawn up, or plans to earmark $1.5 billion for the development of railway projects in Iran.

It must be noted here that there is no guarantee that all these initiatives will be successful in the end. For one, timelines have not been set out for most of the projects, and not all of them will even reach the stage of implementation. And those that do—for example, the supply of aircraft parts—will concern a limited set of products. The Iranian aviation industry has been in a rut for a number of years now, thanks to the sanctions. They have learned to make certain things on their own, sure, but most parts are either imported through third countries or stripped from old planes that no longer fly.

Despite all this, some projects might turn out to be rather successful. The number of areas where cooperation between the two countries is possible is clearly expanding, and this is thanks to the sudden spike in interest on the Russian side in Iran. In addition to this, traditional pockets of cooperation are getting a new push. For example, the export of Russian agricultural products against the backdrop of the global food problem is fast becoming a key element of Iran’s food security. And the North–South Transport Corridor, which has been operating in test mode for the past few years, could very well become the main export route for Russian products.

A certain rapport can also be witnessed in the domain of foreign policy. Iran’s reaction to the events in Ukraine was more positive than that of the other Middle Eastern states. During his meeting with Vladimir Putin in Tehran, the Supreme Leader of Iran, Ali Khamenei, stressed that NATO would have started a war with Russia on the pretext of Crimea if it had not been stopped in Ukraine. Certain changes can also be seen in Syria, where Russia’s responses to the actions of Israel are becoming increasingly harsh. Finally, the hallmark of the trilateral summit in the Iranian capital was the attempt of Tehran and Moscow to convince Ankara to abandon its military operations in Syria.

Be that as it may, there is no way the alignment between Russia and Iran would turn into a full-fledged alliance. The main reason why this will never happen is because of Russia’s image in Iran, which is riddled with negative historical connotations. Distrust of Tehran and a poor understanding of its policies can be found among the Russian elite as well. Besides, the sides disagree quite strongly on a number of issues, including their respective policies in the Middle East and how to resolve the territorial disputes over the Caspian Sea.

Also keep in mind that Russia and Iran are competitors in the energy market. The agreement with Gazprom largely stems from Russian efforts to gain leverage over the Iranian oil and gas industry. Exactly how much leeway the Iranian side will give to Russian companies remains to be seen.

However, paradoxical as it may sound, the bunch of contradictions that has accumulated in Russia–Iran relations does not stand in the way of rapprochement between the two countries. Russia is realistic in its approach, and this makes it possible to focus on areas of common interest, even when there are far more problems in bilateral relations, for example in Moscow’s relations with Ankara. At the same time, both Moscow and Tehran are extremely interested in an alternative to the West-dominated economic order. Neither country can do this alone, but these two “political outcasts” countries are better suited to the task than anyone else.

Here, positive developments were reflected in the conclusion of a long-term strategic agreement between Russia and Iran similar to the documents that Tehran signed with China and Venezuela. Judging by what Russian officials said, the project will be finalized quite soon. Importantly, the agreement will take the form of a memorandum—a formal confirmation that the intentions do not impose any direct obligations on the two countries. The “Russia–Iran axis” will continue to move in more or less the same direction. Relations between the two countries may well expand and deepen with each passing year to never-before-seen levels, but the sides harbor no intention of taking any unwanted obligations, including becoming allies.

From our partner RIAC

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Astana Trilateral Summit 2022: What did Russian President Achieve?

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Since he launched the fateful invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, the Russian President had not traveled outside the former Soviet territories. His only visit outside Russia was to “friendly” Central Asian States in June, where he predictably received a warm reception. The first trip by Putin outside former Soviet territories proved to be to the Iranian capital Tehran for the Astana Trilateral Summit — a forum established for the settlement of the Syrian conflict and features key players in the Syrian conflict: Russia, Iran, and Turkey. Unsurprisingly, the Syrian conflict took a back seat and the aftermath of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine dominated the discussions at the trilateral summit.

After the boycott of Putin by the Western world, the Russian leader has been attempting strategic and economic reorientation toward Asia and has achieved considerable success in making up for the losses in revenues incurred owing to the Western economic sanctions by selling oil at heavily discounted prices to countries like China and India. The trip to Iran provided the beleaguered Russian leader an opportunity to dissipate the impression of Russian isolation — no matter if the support extended is from a state under the severest of Western sanctions – Iran. The outright endorsement of his Ukraine invasion and scathing condemnation of the Western world was precisely the music Putin wanted to hearken and the Iranian Supreme Leader had plenty to offer.

Nonetheless, being under Western sanctions has positioned both the countries abreast and Russia, by offering even cheaper energy rates, has captured the energy and steel markets previously held by under-sanctions Iran. The shift did cause some resentment in Iran and Putin sought to assuage the Iranian grievances by signing the $40 billion deal between the National Iranian Oil Company (NIOC) and Gazprom for the development of oil and gas fields in Iran. Nonetheless, the suspicions do persist as the Iranian Supreme Leader pushed Russians to follow up and fulfill the agreements signed between the two countries in the oil and gas sectors.

Putin’s Tehran visit has cemented Russia’s position as an important power broker in the Middle East having friendly relations with countries on both sides of the regional Middle Eastern divide. Besides its longstanding relationship with Iran, Russia’s intervention in the Syrian civil war forestalled the almost certain downfall of Bashar’s regime and the country is also a party in the Libyan civil war, wherein it patronizes the warlord Khalifa Haftar.  Moreover, Russia now has a multifaceted relationship with the USA’s Arab allies — particularly Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, and Qatar — primarily owing to the convergence of their energy interests in OPEC Plus. The Arab countries also avoided harshly denouncing the Russian invasion of Ukraine — as the West would have anticipated — so as to avoid antagonizing Moscow, and top Saudi and Emirati royals reportedly declined calls from President Biden during the initial days of the invasion.

Days before Putin visited Tehran, President Biden took a trip to the Middle East and in his address to a gathering of Arab leaders, tried to reassure Washington’s Arab allies that the superpower remains committed to the region and urged oil-rich Arab nations to increase their oil production to mitigate global oil price shock caused by the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Following Biden’s visit, the de facto Saudi ruler Muhammad Bin Salman and President Putin during a phone call agreed to keep coordinating within the framework of OPEC Plus. Accordingly, during the cartel’s meeting held on August 3rd the OPEC Plus members agreed to make a small increase in the oil production, which is unlikely to drastically impact the energy prices as President Biden counted upon.

Even more remarkably, in utter defiance of the US sanctions, Saudi Arabia is importing Russian oil at discounted price for domestic use while selling its oil at higher prices in the international market. In effect, in a major geopolitical turnaround for Moscow in the Middle East, Putin has been able to reaffirm its partnerships, and the days of Arab capitals uncritically following Washington’s lead are all but over.

Putin’s meeting with Turkish President Erdogan during Astana Summit also captured headlines — initially after the Russian President was left awkwardly standing for around 50 seconds waiting for his Turkish counterpart before their meeting and successively for the discussions between the two strongmen to strike a deal to freight the Ukrainian grain from its three Black Sea ports (the deal has now been reached). During the discussions on Syria, Erdogan reportedly talked about the Russian President as “My dear friend Putin” in an exhibition of the close relationship between the two strongmen. Though Turkey and Russia feature on the opposite sides of equations in the Syria, Libya, Azerbaijan-Armenia, and Ukraine conflicts, they have long-lasting trade and energy ties. Turkey, despite being a member of NATO, did not join the Western sanctions against Russia and is now buying more oil from Moscow. Correspondingly, Moscow looks to Turkey as a partner — nonetheless a difficult one — among a host of antagonists and as a crucial market for its energy products and wheat. Yet another meeting between the two leaders in the Russian city of Sochi further hollows Western gambits to isolate Russia for its invasion of Ukraine; meanwhile, Putin continues to assemble allies.

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Russia (Re)Schedules African Leaders Summit for 2023 in St. Petersburg

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With perspectives on making a well-designed substantive agenda, African leaders will be getting ready for the next grand photo opps, witness the delivery of those sparkling high-powerful speeches and finally sign series of new bilateral agreements during the upcoming second Russia-Africa summit scheduled for mid-June 2023 in St. Petersburg, Russia.

Despite the unprecedented sanctions and information warfare launched by the United States and its satellites, Africa has become a priority of Russia’s foreign policy, according to Sergey Lavrov, Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation, noting further that “Russia highly appreciates the readiness of Africans to further step up economic cooperation, and the signed agreements and the results will be consolidated at the forthcoming second Russia-Africa summit.”

During his late July visit to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, Lavrov informed in one of his speeches about broadening African issues in the “new version of Russia’s Foreign Policy Concept against the background of the waning of the Western direction” and this will objectively increase the share of the African direction in the work of the Foreign Ministry. Relating to the next summit mid-June in 2023, “a serious package of documents that will contain almost all significant agreements” is being prepared, he emphasized illustrating his passion for signing agreements.

Arguably the number of agreements signed is not the criteria for measuring success of influence in Africa. Nevertheless, Lavrov said that the two most important goals of the summit will be to sign off on “a memorandum of understanding between the government of the Russian Federation and the African Union on basic principles of relations and co-operation” and “a memorandum of understanding between the Eurasian Economic Commission and the African Union on economic co-operation.”

Russia already has thousands of decade-old undelivered pledges and several bilateral agreements signed with individual countries, yet to be implemented, in the continent. In addition, during the previous years, there has been an unprecedented huge number of working visits by state officials both ways, to Africa and to the Russian Federation.

After the first summit, Russia–Africa discussions become a permanent fixture at the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum, while Roscongress continues working on the African track until the next Forum. That Sochi summit brought together 54 African states, 45 of which were represented by their heads of state, and also attended by the heads of executive bodies of eight African regional organizations.

President Vladimir Putin and Egypt’s Abdelfattah El-Sisi underlined the importance of opportunities to develop investment and trade between which would help to strengthen relations in line with the 2063 concept [agenda] developed by the African Union. And that Russia has, with a vast array of competencies in previous years, is ready to implement joint projects aimed at improving people’s quality of life in Africa.

In total, there were 268 speakers participated in various discussions of topical issues. Resultantly, 92 agreements and contracts were signed at the summit. There were two key agreements that include: (i) Memorandum of Understanding between the Government of the Russian Federation and the African Union on basic principles of relations and cooperation was adopted at the Summit in the presence of Vladimir Putin and Abdelfattah El-Sisi.

(ii) a Memorandum of Understanding between the Eurasian Economic Commission and the African Union on economic cooperation was signed by Tigran Sargsyan, the Chairman of the EEC Board, and Moussa Faki Mahamat, Chairperson of the African Union Commission. 

Then, at the initiative of African participants, a new dialogue mechanism – the Russia-Africa partnership forum – has been created. It was agreed that top-level Russia-Africa meeting will take place within its framework once every three years, alternately in Russia and in an African state. Both Russia and Africa could not agree on the summit in 2022, and in an African country.

The Heads of State and Government from Africa and Russia adopted a final declaration that reflects the principles coordinated by the two sides, the most important of which, according to El-Sissi, are:

–. respect for international law and the UN Charter,

–. the movement towards peace and security through the creation of more equal and fair international relations

–. and a world order based on the principles of multilateralism, respect for national sovereignty, non-interference in the internal affairs of other countries

–. and the peaceful settlement of crises, as well as the protection of national identity and civilisational and cultural pluralism.

“Our declaration has reaffirmed the goals of Agenda 2063 and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. We have approved a ministerial mechanism for promoting dialogue and partnership. We appreciate all these moves and believe that they have created a solid foundation for the further development of Russian-African relations,” said El-Sissi.

In an authoritative policy report presented last November titled – Situation Analytical Report – and prepared by 25 Russian policy experts, it was noted that “the intensification of political contacts is only with a focus on making them demonstrative.” The number of high-level meetings has increased during the previous years but the share of substantive issues on the agenda remains small. There are few definitive results from such meetings. Next, there has been a lack of coordination among various state and para-state institutions working with Africa.

Late July 2022, TASS news agency reported that Russia has always offered African countries mutually partnership based on mutual interests, unlike some other partners. “We always offer equal cooperation. We offer projects that would be of interest to this or that side. It is never a one-way street other partners often offer to Africans, sometimes implicitly, sometimes openly,” Deputy Speaker of Russia’s Federation Council (Upper Parliament House), Konstantin Kosachev, said in an interview with Russia’s TV Channel One.

He noted that Russia and Africa have many spheres for cooperation. “They include high technologies, the nuclear industry, machine-building, medicine, pharmaceuticals, the development of transport infrastructure, and, naturally, the energy sector. Each of these topics are important for African countries,” he added.

That said, preparations for the next Russia-Africa summit mid-2023 are currently underway. “The Russian side aims to continue preparing the second and aims at making it as efficient as possible. The Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and other ministries are taking steps to build a full and mutually beneficial cooperation between Russia and the African countries, including the formation of a reliable social and economic infrastructure, food and energy security on the continent,” according to Oleg Ozerov, Ambassador-at-Large and Head of the Secretariat of the Russia-Africa Partnership Forum.

With its impressive relations, Russia has not pledged concrete funds toward implementing its policy objectives and tasks in Africa. Moreover, Russian officials have ignored the fact that Russia’s overall economic engagement is largely staggering and various business agreements signed are still not fulfilled with many African countries. There is a distinctive divide between what has been pledged and promised at high-level meetings and summits, compared to what has actually materialized on the ground. For now there is very little to celebrate, except for speeches, photo-opps and sign a new communique (joint declaration), at the next African leaders summit in St. Petersburg in 2023.

Worth saying here that African leaders are waiting to cut white ribbons marking the successful completion of Russian-managed something. Really it is time to swift from regular rhetoric and move on towards implementing the package of bilateral agreements especially those involving infrastructure investments, and further determine financing sources for concrete projects and deliver on decade-old pledges and promises made to the people of Africa.

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