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The Road Ahead: Dissecting Russia’s Economic Diplomacy With Africa

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During the September ceremony to receive foreign ambassadors, Russian leader Vladimir Putin offered spiteful goal-setting policy outlines and some aspects of lofty Russia’s economic policy directions for Africa. Most of these directions considered significant have, over these years, featured prominently in all his previous speeches on Russia’s relations with Africa.

On September 20, in the St Alexander Hall of the Grand Kremlin Palace, Putin received letters of credence from 24 newly-arrived ambassadors, including nine from Africa (Algeria, Egypt, DR Congo, Libya, Mali, Senegal, Sudan, Tanzania and Uganda). By tradition, Putin briefly characterised the relations between Russia and countries whose envoys came to the Kremlin ceremony.

In a grandiose style, Putin gave a line-up of cheerful-looking ambassadors a step-by-step account of the global situation, the necessity for Russia’s “special military operation” in neighbouring Ukraine, questions relating to regional security, and economic instability due to rising prices for energy and commodities. He underscored the development of multipolar and more democratic and fair world order had entered its active phase.

“Regrettably, the objective movement towards multipolarity has come up against resistance from those trying to preserve their dominant role in international affairs and to control everything – Latin America, Europe, Asia and Africa,” Putin said.

Referencing the current international situation with an emphasis on the critical regional problems of the African continent and the bilateral relations of African countries whose ambassadors were accredited to the Russian Federation, Putin stressed “the importance of the upcoming second Russia-Africa summit in St. Petersburg in 2023 for strengthening diverse relations between Russia and African countries.”

Putin further touched on Moscow’s efforts to restore its geopolitical foothold on the continent after the historical collapse of the Soviet era. While the summit is considered a significant development for Russia’s power-wielding ambitions, Putin strongly reminded African ambassadors that the second Russia-Africa summit is scheduled to be held in St Petersburg in 2023. “We hope that together we will be able to give a new impetus to the comprehensive development of mutually beneficial cooperation between Russia and the African states,” he said.

Significant to note here that at the far end of the first summit, Russia and Africa issued a joint declaration; among the questions was to hold the summit every three years. Both Russia and Africa could not hold the summit during its third year, both Russia and Africa failed to choose the summit venue. While reasons were not assigned for this sharp inconsistency, policy experts suggested either the Central African Republic (CAR) or the Republic of Mali could hold the summit. CAR and Mali are “reliable Russia’s partners,” and holding the summit would have resonating effects.

During his speech, Putin invited the President of Algeria Abdelmadjid Tebboune, to visit Russia. Understandably, Algeria is Russia’s second-largest trading partner in Africa regarding trade volume. And trade and economic cooperation continue to develop actively, as well as ties in other areas, including military-technical and cultural ties. Reports say Russia supports Algeria’s balanced regional and international affairs policy and continues to work together towards strengthening stability in the Middle East, North Africa and the Sahara-Sahel region.

“We consistently build friendly relations with Egypt under the fundamental Agreement on Comprehensive Partnership and Strategic Cooperation signed in 2018. We view Egypt as one of our most important partners in Africa and the Arab world. We are in constant contact with President Sisi,” according to Putin.

The intergovernmental commission has been working, promoting trade growth, which increased by more than 40 per cent in the first six months of this year. Large joint projects are being implemented, such as constructing the El Dabaa nuclear power plant and creating a Russian industrial zone near the Suez Canal. There is a regular political dialogue and close foreign policy coordination. Within the general policy framework, Russia does not grant concessionary loans and has not publicly allocated a budget for Africa.

But in this exceptional case, Russia and Egypt signed an agreement, and the total cost of construction is fixed at $30 billion. Russia provides Egypt with a loan of $25 billion, which will cover 85% of the work. The Egyptian side will cover the remaining expenses by attracting private investors. Under the agreement, Egypt is to start payments on the loan, which was provided at 3% per annum, in October 2029.

Ambassador Harouna Samake (Republic of Mali) was among the envoys in the Kremlin and listened attentively as Putin welcomed the intention of the leadership of the Republic of Mali to form a long-term strategic partnership with Russia and develop mutually beneficial ties.

During a detailed telephone conversation in August with Interim President Assimi Goïta, Putin agreed to continue joint efforts in countering international terrorism and religious extremism. He further pledged that Russia would continue to provide the Malian people with comprehensive assistance and support in various ways.

The same diplomatic rhetoric praised Russia’s relations with Uganda, one of Russia’s reliable partners in Africa. The United Republic of Tanzania has listed promising spheres such as peaceful nuclear research, transport, energy and tourism. These spheres have been on Russia’s list for many other African countries.

Over the years, Russia has performed dismally in Africa’s transport and energy sector. In theory, it has expressed heightened interest in exploring and producing oil and gas in Africa. But so far, its investment efforts are not seen in the region. Russia claims the leading position as an energy supplier and is now rapidly diversifying its products at discounted prices to the Asian market. Therefore, it is logical that African leaders should not expect much from the Russian Federation in this oil and gas (energy) sector.

Currently, all African countries have a serious energy crisis. Over 620 million in Sub-Saharan Africa do not have electricity out of 1.3 billion people. In this context, several African countries are exploring nuclear energy as part of the solution. Three decades after the Soviet collapse, not a single nuclear plant has been completed in Africa.

Some still advocate for alternative energy supply. Gabby Asare Otchere-Darko, Founder and Executive Director of Danquah Institute, a non-profit organization that promotes policy initiatives and advocates for Africa’s development, wrote in an email that “Africa needs expertise and knowledge transfer that can assist Africa to develop its physical infrastructure, add value to two of its key resources: natural resources and human capital.”

Russia has respectable expertise in one key area for Africa: energy development. “But, has Russia the courage, for instance, to take on the stalled $8-$10 billion Inga-3 hydropower project on the Congo river? This is the kind of development project that can vividly send out a clear signal to African leaders and governments that Russia is, indeed, ready for business,” he said in an interview discussion.

The renewable energy potential is enormous in Africa, citing the Democratic Republic of Congo Grand Inga Dam. Grand Inga is the world’s largest proposed hydropower scheme. It is a grand vision to develop a continent-wide power system. Grand Inga-3 is expected to have an electricity-generating capacity of about 40,000 megawatts – nearly twice as much as the 20 largest nuclear power stations. The cost of building nuclear power does not make sense when compared to the cost of building renewables or other energy sources to solve energy shortages in Africa.

With high optimism and a high desire to strengthen its geopolitical influence, Russia has engaged in sloganism, and many of its signed agreements have not been implemented. The joint declaration adopted at the first summit is intended to raise the African agenda of Russia’s foreign policy to a new level and remains the main document determining the conceptual framework of Russian-African cooperation. Many remain as submit paperwork. China, Japan, India, the United States, the European Union and other players are progressively implementing their African strategies.

Over the years, Russia has shown high interest in Libya, whose ambassador, Emhemed Almaghrawi (State of Libya), was part of the Kremlin ceremony in September. Over the years, Russia has struggled to improve its bilateral political and economic dialogue and cooperation with that North African country. It has faced many pitfalls and obstacles, though.

“We attach great importance to relations with Libya and are interested in a fair and lasting settlement of the protracted internal conflict in that country. Russia will continue to support Libya’s sovereignty and territorial integrity and help the friendly Libyan people defend their right to a decent life, peace and security. As the internal situation in Libya stabilises, we look forward to resuming bilateral cooperation in various fields,” Putin said.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov condemned the Atlantic alliance when he spoke to students at the Moscow State Institute of International Relations in Moscow on September 1. Russia claims it lost billions of dollars in energy, defence, and infrastructure contracts it had negotiated with the removal of Col. Qaddafi. Russia’s state arms exporter lost an estimated $4 billion in Libyan contracts after the UN Security Council imposed an arms embargo on Libya.

Russian Railways had secured a $3 billion contract to build a high-speed rail link from Sirt to Benghazi. Many of these contracts were either signed in Qaddafi’s presence or were organized by him. Russia’s state news agency ITAR-TASS estimates that the country could lose as much as $10 billion in business if Libya’s new leadership challenges the legality of the existing contracts.

As Anna Borshchevskaya, an Ira Weiner Fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, observes that military has been part of the foreign policy of the Russian Federation, and Russian authorities have been strengthening military-technical cooperation with some African countries.

“A major driver for Moscow’s push into Africa is military cooperation more broadly. These often include officer training and the sale of military equipment, though the details are rarely publicly available,” she acknowledges, “and it will continue so in Russia’s relations with Africa.

Russia has made significant arms deals with Angola and Algeria. Reports show that Egypt, Uganda, Tanzania, Somalia, Mali, Sudan and Libya have also bought arms from Russia. Small countries such as Burundi, Botswana, and Rwanda, with distinctively impoverished populations and budgetary limitations, have signed agreements. Russia also provides military training and support; it has defence orders worth $14 billion from African countries.

According to Nezavisimaya Gazeta, quoting military experts, Russia has much to gain by promoting and attempting to dispose off its Soviet-era military equipment in Africa. After all, Russia is self-sufficient and has economic independence, so with enthusiasm, convincing African leaders to purchase fertilizers and grains, thereby pushing them towards depleting their hard-earned revenues.  Without a doubt, African leaders endlessly boast of vast uncultivated lands, making little efforts to support and mechanize agriculture.

During these months of the Russia-Ukraine crisis and sanctions from the United States, Europe and Pacific allies, Russian diplomacy has repeatedly stressed that Moscow is ready to export 30 million tons of grain and over 20 million tons of fertilizer by the end of 2022.

According to local Russian media reports, the Russian Agriculture Ministry’s Agroexport Federal Centre for Development of Agribusiness Exports, in close partnership collaboration with Trust Technologies and the business expert community, drew up a business plan for the development of exports for agricultural products (grain, dairy, meat and confectionery products) to promising markets of African countries.

The project’s goal is to prepare a practice-oriented model for increasing supplies and enhancing the competitiveness of Russian agricultural goods in the African market. The report says nine African countries have been chosen as target markets for the delivery of agricultural products. These are Angola, Cameroon, Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Mauritius, Nigeria, Tunisia and South Africa.

That report explicitly notes African leaders’ readiness to spend state budgets on food imports; without a doubt, “food security” is the central theme for the 2023 Russia-Africa summit. These countries account for 40% of the continent’s population and one-third of all African imports of agricultural products; Russia estimates to earn some $33 billion from Africa.

In practical terms, a microscopic analysis of Russia’s economic presence gives many interpretations and contradictions. While currently, Russia seems to be soliciting the support of Africa to lead the emerging new world order, Russia still does not recognize that it needs to adopt more public outreach policies to win the minds and hearts of Africans. Its economic footprint on the continent is comparatively weak. Instead of addressing its own investment agenda, it has consistently criticised other foreign players, especially the United States and European countries, that are active in Africa.

Many Russian companies have abandoned their projects in Africa. The latest is the lucrative platinum project contract that was signed for $3 billion in September 2014, the platinum mine is located about 50 km northwest of Harare, the Zimbabwean capital. The Darwendale project involves a consortium of the Rostekhnologii State Corporation, Vneshekonombank and Vi Holding in a joint venture with some private Zimbabwe investors and the Zimbabwean government.

After widely campaigning for the construction of what was referred to as the “Southern Oil&Gas Pipelines” that was supposed to connect three or four southern African countries, Russia’s Rosneft finally abandoned the project. And similarly, State Nuclear Enterprise Rosatom never mentioned again the proposed nuclear plant construction signed by Jacob Zuma of South Africa.

Russia’s Lukoil undertook exploratory feasibility studies in Sierra Leone, Nigeria, Cameroon and Ghana, only to abandon these projects. Nigeria’s Ajeokuta Steel Plant project remains a dream project for Russians. Norilsk Nickel (Nornickel), the Russian mining giant, ceased operations in Botswana. It owned a stake in the Tati Nickel in Botswana, where production was expected to reach its highest level. It has previously given a positive assessment of the possibilities for developing its production assets in South Africa and many African countries. There is a long list of Russian companies that under-performed or performed badly and finally exited Africa.

Just a few weeks before his departure from Moscow, the Zimbabwean ambassador to the Russian Federation, Brigadier General Nicholas Mike Sango, told me in an interview discussion that several issues could strengthen the relationship. One important direction is economic cooperation. African diplomats have consistently been persuading Russia’s businesses to take advantage of the Africa Continental Free Trade Area (ACFTA) as an opportunity for Russian businesses to establish footprints on the continent. This view has not found favour with them, and it is hoped over time, it will.

Although the government has not pronounced incentives for businesses to set sights and venture into Africa, Russian businesses generally view Africa as too risky for their investment. He said that Russia needs to set footprints on the continent by exporting its competitive advantages in engineering and technological advancement to bridge the gap that is retarding Africa’s industrialization and development.

“Worse is that there are too many initiatives by too many quasi-state institutions promoting economic cooperation with Africa saying the same things in different ways, but doing nothing tangible,” he told me during the lengthy pre-departure interview. He served the Republic of Zimbabwe in the Russian Federation from July 2015 to August 2022. He previously held various high-level posts, such as military adviser in Zimbabwe’s Permanent Mission to the United Nations and as an international instructor in the Southern African Development Community (SADC).

There are several similar criticisms from former ambassadors. According to Mandisi Mpahlwa, former South African Ambassador, Sub-Saharan Africa has understandably been low on post-Soviet Russia’s list of priorities, given that Russia is not as dependent on Africa’s natural resources as other major economies. The reason: Soviet and African relations, anchored as they were on the fight to push back the frontiers of colonialism, did not necessarily translate into trade, investment and economic ties, which would have continued seamlessly with post-Soviet Russia.

“Russia’s objective of taking the bilateral relationship with Africa to the next level cannot be realized without a close partnership with the private sector. Africa and Russia are close politically but geographically distant, and the people-to-people ties are still underdeveloped. This translates into a low level of knowledge on both sides of what the other has to offer. There is perhaps also a fear of the unknown in both countries,” Mpahlawa said in an interview after completing his ambassadorial duty in the Russian Federation.

Russia has a lot of policy weaknesses in Africa. Reports indicated that more than 90 agreements were signed at the end of the first Russia-Africa summit. Thousands of bilateral agreements are still on the drawing board, and century-old promises and pledges for supporting sustainable development are authoritatively renewed with African countries. Like a polar deer waking up from its deep slumber, Russia is flashing its geopolitical headlights in all directions on Africa.

Russia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs website indicates that there have been several top-level bilateral meetings, signing of MoUs and bilateral agreements during the past years. In November 2021, a policy document titled the ‘Situation Analytical Report’ presented at the premises of TASS News Agency was very critical of Russia’s current policy towards Africa.

While the number of high-level meetings has increased, the share of substantive issues and definitive results on the agenda remains small. It explicitly points out the inconsistent approach in dealing with Africa. Russia lacks public outreach policies for Africa. Apart from the absence of a public strategy for the continent, there is a lack of coordination among various state and para-state institutions working with Africa.

Ultimately, actions, not words, will determine if upcoming Russia -Africa Summit and the proposed Africa strategy will reset relations with the continent. The significant fact here is that little has been achieved since the first Russia-Africa summit held in October 2019. According to the Russian Foreign Ministry’s Ambassador-at-Large and head of the Secretariat of the Russia-Africa Partnership Forum, Oleg Ozerov, food security will be one of the top issues on the agenda of the second Russia-Africa Summit.

It is a fact that Russia’s ties with Africa declined with the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. In the aftermath of the Soviet Union, Russia continues efforts in search of possible collaboration and opportunities for cooperation in the past years. But most essentially, Russians must understand clearly that little has been achieved in Africa. Several bilateral agreements signed with individual countries are not implemented, while in the previous years, there has been an unprecedented huge number of “working visits” to Africa.

According to our research findings, in stark contrast to key global players, for instance the United States, China, the European Union and many others, Russia’s policies have little impact on African development paradigms. Russia’s policies have often ignored Africa’s sustainable development questions. Experts have repeatedly suggested Russia adopt an Action Plan – a practical document that would fill cooperation with substance between summits. In conclusion, Russians must strongly remember that Africa’s roadmap is the African Union Agenda 2063.

MD Africa Editor Kester Kenn Klomegah is an independent researcher and writer on African affairs in the EurAsian region and former Soviet republics. He wrote previously for African Press Agency, African Executive and Inter Press Service. Earlier, he had worked for The Moscow Times, a reputable English newspaper. Klomegah taught part-time at the Moscow Institute of Modern Journalism. He studied international journalism and mass communication, and later spent a year at the Moscow State Institute of International Relations. He co-authored a book “AIDS/HIV and Men: Taking Risk or Taking Responsibility” published by the London-based Panos Institute. In 2004 and again in 2009, he won the Golden Word Prize for a series of analytical articles on Russia's economic cooperation with African countries.

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Russia’s Military Diplomacy in Africa: High Risk, Low Reward and Limited Impact 

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The South African Journal of International Affairs, a foreign policy think tank, has released a special researched report on Russia-Africa. According to the report, Russia has signed military-technical agreements with over 20 African countries and has secured lucrative mining and nuclear energy contracts on the continent.

Russia views Africa as an increasingly important vector of its post-Western foreign policy. It’s support for authoritarian regimes in Africa are readily noticeable, and its soft power has drastically eroded. As suspicions arise that Russia’s growing assertiveness in Africa is a driver of instability, its approach to governance encourages pernicious practices, such as kleptocracy and autocracy in Africa.

Over the years, Russia has terribly failed to deliver on its pledges and promises, various bilateral agreements undelivered. Heading into the 2023 Russia-Africa Summit in St Petersburg (unless the proposed date and venue change, again), Russia looks more like a ‘virtual great power’ than a genuine challenger to European, American and Chinese influence.

What is, particularly, interesting relates to the well-researched report by Ovigwe Eguegu, a Nigerian policy analyst at Development Reimagined, a consultancy headquartered in Beijing, China. His report was based on more than 80 media publications dealing with Russia’s military-technical cooperation in Africa. His study focused on the Republic of Mali and the Central African Republic as case studies.

The report titled – Russia’s Private Military Diplomacy in Africa: High Risk, Low Reward, Limited Impact – says that Russia’s renewed interest in Africa is driven by its quest for global power status. Few expect Russia’s security engagement to bring peace and development to countries with which it has security partnerships.

While Moscow’s opportunistic use of private military diplomacy has allowed it to successfully gain a strategic foothold in partner countries, the lack of transparency in interactions, the limited scope of impact and the high financial and diplomatic costs expose the limitations of the partnership in addressing the peace and development challenges of African host countries, the report says.

Much of the existing literature on Russia’s foreign policy pointed to the fact that Moscow’s desire to regain great power status has been pursued largely by exploiting opportunities in weak and fragile states in Africa.

Ovigwe Eguegu’s report focused on the use of private military companies to carry out ‘military diplomacy’ in those African states, and the main research questions were: What impact is Russia’s private military diplomacy in Africa having on host countries’ peace and development? Why Russia has chosen military diplomacy as the preferred means to gain a foothold on the continent? 

It interrogates whether fragile African states advance their security, diplomatic and economic interests through a relationship with Russia. Overcoming the multidimensional problems facing Libya, Sudan, Somali, Mali and Central African Republic will require comprehensive peace and development strategies that include conflict resolution and peacebuilding, state-building, security sector reform, and profound political reforms to improve governance and rule of law – not to mention sound economic planning critical for attracting the foreign direct investment needed to spur economic growth.

In the report, Eguegu further looked at the geopolitical dynamics of Russia’s new interest in Africa. He asserted that during the Cold War, the interests of the Soviet Union and many African states aligned along pragmatic and ideological lines. Many African countries had, after independence, resumed agitation against colonialism, racism, and capitalism throughout the 1970s and 1980s. The clash between communism and capitalism provided ample opportunity to the Soviets to provide support to African countries both in ideological solidarity and as practical opposition to Western European and US influence in Africa.

Since Soviet’s collapse in 1991, Russia itself has rekindled relationships with African countries for myriad reasons – but these can largely be attributed more to pragmatism than ideology. More specifically, Russia’s interactions with African states have been multi-dimensional ranging from economic and political to security oriented.

He offered the example of Moscow’s relationships with Eritrea and Sudan that ultimately provided Russia with some influence and leeway in the critical Red Sea region, and also to counter the influence of the US and China. But the main feature of Russia’s policy is mostly ‘elite-based’ and support for often illegitimate or unpopular leaders. 

The report also highlighted the myriad socioeconomic and political challenges plaguing a number of African countries. Despite these developments, some have struggled to maintain socioeconomic and political stability. The spread of insecurity has now become more complex across the Sahel region. The crisis is multidimensional, involving the political, socioeconomic, regional and climatic dimensions.

Good governance challenges plays it own role. In additional to that, weak political and judicial institutions have contributed to deep-seated corruption. 

Conflict resolution has to be tied to comprehensive improvement of political governance, economic development and social questions. Some of the fragile and conflict-ridden African countries are keen on economic diversification and broader economic development. However, progress is limited by inadequate access to finance and the fragile security situation.

According to the International Monetary Fund, these fragile states have to diversify their economy and establish connection between the various economic regions and activities. Poverty caused by years of lacklustre economic performance is one of the root causes of insecurity. As such, economic development and growth would form a key part of the solution to regional security problems.

Analysts suggest that Russia utilises mercenaries and technical cooperation mechanisms to gain and secure access to politically aligned actors and, by extension, economic benefits like natural resources and trade deals.

It is argued here that the adherence to a primarily military approach to insecurity challenges is inadequate and the right path of peace and development. Furthermore, fragmented, untransparent and unharmonized peace processes will impede considerably on sustainable solutions to the conflicts in Africa.

Worse is that Russia’s strengths expressed through military partnerships fall short of what is needed to address the complexities and scale of the problems facing those African countries. Moscow certainly has not shown enough commitment needed for the comprehensive peacebuilding programmes, security sector reforms, state-building, and improvement to governance and rule of law.

Surely, African countries have to begin to re-evaluate their relationship with Russia. African leaders should not expect anything tangible from meetings, conferences and summits. Since the first Russia-Africa summit held 2019, very little has taken place.

At this point, it is even more improbable that Moscow would commit financial resources to invest in economic sectors, given the fact that series of stringent sanctions imposed to isolate it following Putin’s invasion of Ukraine. The impact of sanctions and the toll of the war on the Russian economy are likely to see Moscow redirect its practical attention towards ensuring stability within its borders and in its periphery. 

Notwithstanding its aim of working with Africa, Russia’s influence is still comparatively marginal and its policy tools are extremely limited relative to other international actors, including China and Western countries such as France, European Union members and the United States. 

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Rethinking the Soviet Experience : Politics and History since 1917- Book Review

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The book was written in 1984 and is a collection of essays on Soviet politics and Sovietology, from the time of the Russian Revolution till then. Stephen Cohen, at the outset  diagnoses the problem ailing the mainstream western branch of academia researching about the Soviet Union- a common bias of ideas tilted towards the United States of America, due to the various systematic temptations offered by them, through the founding of different think tanks and foundations which support scholarly work. There was a constant assumption of a totalitarian and evil USSR while working on the politics of the federation during the Cold War era, specially amongst the western scholars. While Cohen did acknowledge that most work done on the USSR as an international entity, has been done by the United States of America, he argued that the study of Sovietology had been undertaken, the scope had been very limited, thus this stream of study needed adequate revisionism. In the 1950’s, fresh out of the Second World War, the field of Sovietology was new and encouraged new ways of thinking. Once the 1960’s came around, the field now with a number of students employed in it, started getting set in rigid biases.

His revisionism argues for thinking beyond what has now been conventionally acknowledged and thus, distorted by the Western approach to Sovietology. He emphasized on the idea of historical review for better understanding of contemporary political happenings. He substantiates this argument by stating the parallelism between the conflict within the ranks of the soviet- the tussle between the conservatives and the reformists at the time he was writing the book (1980s) and the struggles within Russian politics which led to the downfall of the Tsar in 1918. All dissidence leads to a better, more efficient system of politics and governance, in what appears to be typical Marxist fashion but it is possible that at the time of publication was considered path-breaking.

The second chapter of his book, discusses the viability of the ways of Nikolai Bukharin, considers him as a fully indoctrinated Bolshevik. He discusses his doctrine and dismisses the view that Stalinism was an inevitable consequence of the Bolshevik path undertaken, unlike what most Marxist-Leninist supporters state. This is the complete opposite of E.H Carr’s opinion who was quick to dismiss the impact of Bukharin on Soviet politics and the room for future progress under him.

In the later part of the book, the author somewhat blends Brezhnev’s era with  Nikita Khruschev’s  and attempts to highlight the continuities in Soviet conservatist sentiments so deeply entrenched in Russian society, flowing directly into and influencing each other. While conservative views were always the dominant influence on the trajectory that the USSR would follow, the fact that there was significant progress in matters relating to welfare, rural organisation and consumerism, Cohen argued, was still positive progress towards reform. In this way, while many scholars support the perception that the Brezhnev administration was conservative as it did not disrupt status quo, Cohen while arguing in favour of conservatist sentiments existing, highlighted certain reformist tendencies, which signaled the advent of the era of economic stagnation.

He attempted to justify Stalin’s iron handed measures of strict control and repression, by highlighting the impact of the Truman doctrine and the repercussions of the advent of the Cold War. The favour towards Khrushchev, as opined by Cohen, only manifested due to strong anti-Stalinist sentiments, as Stalin’s harsh measures had helped deplane plenty of ‘modernising achievements’ in the soviet economy. While calls for conservatism always remained an active branch of politics, Cohen aimed at giving gradual reformist politics its due.

These are some of the main arguments reflected in Stephen Cohen’s five chapter long book. It does not focus on any new research in the field, but rather on historiography and political relations. What was most helpful to me while reading the book was that there were plenty of footnotes which made the process of understanding the details much easier, especially considering how a major chunk of the book addresses problems within Soviet scholasticism. In no means is this work perfect, as Cohen tends to push the same ideas over and over again, within the chapters (the core arguments are mentioned above). In proposing Bukharinism as a viable alternative to Stalinism, and as a possible natural successor of Bolshevism, he puts forth a very unique idea. This is in no way a textbook on Soviet history, but it does provide insights and interesting opinions about Sovietology as a discipline, as it pushes for a new revisionist approach to examine the Soviet past, in order to understand the present and future of the USSR. Although much time has passed since  Rethinking the Soviet Experience was first published it remains seminal in the discourse regarding the history and politics of the USSR.

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Digging Down Into ‘Putin’s Corruption’

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Image source: kremlin.ru

For years, I have been checking-out allegations of such things as ‘Putin’s Palace’ and ‘Putin’s Chef’, and so many other allegations of Putin’s ‘corruption’ (many of which are against friends and members of his Administration instead of against himself, because the allegations against himself fail to provide any documentation that he actually owns what the allegations attribute to him — there is far too much that is mere supposition in the direct accusations against him). 

Therefore, recently, I checked out allegations that are commonly made that Russia’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Sergei Lavrov, is corrupt. 

This twitter string contains loads of allegations that his mistress since about the year 2000 has a daughter from her former marriage who is a multi-millionairess with no apparent cause to be such: “Polina Kovaleva. Polina is a 26-year-old glamorous Russian girl from London. She lives in a huge apartment in Kensington and loves to party, her instagram feed looks like a non-stop holiday.” Here’s that instagram feed, where Polina flaunts her glamour; so, she comes across as a European Kardashian-plus — but how many people use that flaunting to argue that America is corrupt? (There are lots better arguments to make such a case against the U.S. Government.) 

The neoconservative “Vice” site headlined “Inside the Lavish London Lifestyle of Sergey Lavrov’s Stepdaughter: Polina Kovaleva bought a £4.4 million apartment with cash when she was just 21, according to campaigners. She happens to be the stepdaughter of Putin’s foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov.”

A more neutral site, the Moscow Times, bannered “Russian Foreign Minister’s Secret Mistress Wields Ministry Influence, Owns Elite Property – iStories”, and presented evidence that Polina’s wealth comes not so much from anything having to do with her stepfather Lavrov but from her mother, his mistress, Svetlana Polyakova, who was born in 1971 and who met Lavrove in around the year 2000.

Very little information is public about Polyakova. But, the neoconservative The Daily Beast site headlined “Top Russian Diplomat’s Secret Life With Millionaire Mistress Exposed: Sergey Lavrov, ‘the face of Russian diplomacy,’ has reportedly been living large while on ‘official trips’ to more than 20 countries with his ultra-rich mistress.” That report opened:

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has reportedly bankrolled his mistress’s travel abroad with him on official diplomatic trips to almost two dozen countries around the world, according to a new bombshell report from Russian opposition activist Alexei Navalny’s team. The report, entitled “Yachts, bribes and a mistress. What Minister Lavrov is hiding,” details a plethora of luxury digs and yachts enjoyed by the couple, including a yacht owned by the notorious oligarch Oleg Deripaska, which has been graced by the likes of Belarusian model Anastasia Vashukevich, better known by her pseudonym Nastya Rybka.

Navalny is a far-right-wing rabidly anti-Muslim Russian politician who has never had higher than 3% approval-rating in Russian national polls but whom U.S.-and-allied propaganda describe as “Putin’s main political opponent”, and as Russia’s leading anti-corruption activist. His ‘anti-corruption’ organization got caught trying to get UK’s MI6 intelligence agency to fund it. (The video that was shown in that linked-to news-report was removed from youtube and from the “Wayback Machine” Web-archive, so that that ‘archive’ is no longer a reliable archiving service, but what the video showed — I saw it while it was online — was devastating against Navalny, and the U.S.-and-allied regimes don’t deny its authenticity, but only block their publics from seeing and hearing it.)

The opening item in the present article — “This twitter string contains loads of allegations that his mistress since about the year 2000 has a daughter from her former marriage who is a multi-millionairess with no apparent cause to be such:” — comes from Navalny’s organization.

Then, The Daily Beast headlined “Britain Calls Out Russia’s Top Diplomat for Secret Family”, and reported:

In its list of the 65 new individuals and organizations targeted for “aiding Russia’s invasion of Ukraine,” the British Foreign Office appears to have made a point to call out Lavrov’s “secret family” in London, with its inclusion of Polina Kovalev, whom it describes as his stepdaughter.

Kovalev’s inclusion on the list appears to confirm exhaustive reporting by Kremlin foe Alexei Navalny’s team that Lavrov, 71, has been living a “double life” for nearly two decades. One that includes a “secret wife,” identified by Navalny’s allies as Svetlana Polyakova, an actress and a restaurateur with sway in Russia’s Foreign Ministry.

Britain’s neoconservative Daily Mail headlined:

REVEALED: Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov took secret millionaire mistress abroad more than 60 times on ‘diplomatic missions’ and bankrolled her luxury lifestyle

Russia Foreign Minister Lavrov bankrolled mistress Svetlana Polyakova’s lifestyle

He has taken her abroad on ‘diplomatic’ missions more than 60 times since 2014

She also appeared publicly with Putin and was cleared to be in ‘elite’ entourage 

Details unearthed in an investigation were published by Kremlin critic Navalny 

The U.S.-and-allied billionaires’ OCCRP.org, or “Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project,” is also on this case. The OCCRP is funded by billionaires and Governments such as Soros (Open Society Fdtn.), Rockefeller, Ford Fdtn., Denmark, U.S. Government, Bay&PaulFdtns./CIA, etc. Their article “Russian Foreign Minister Has a Longtime Female Companion With Over $13 Million in Unexplained Assets” reported:

For years, a source close to a foreign ministry official told reporters, she has had a very close relationship with Lavrov. Reporters found that, in addition to accompanying him around the Church of St. Sergius, she has travelled with him to Sochi and St. Petersburg. She has even appeared in cell phone address books under his last name.

Polyakova also has substantial assets that a mere “employee of the Foreign Ministry” would almost certainly not be able to afford. Property records show that she and her family own real estate in Russia and Great Britain worth about 1 billion rubles ($13.6 million).

Polyakova and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs did not respond to requests for comment. …

Until 2012, business records show, she was a co-owner of Consul, a restaurant located inside the foreign ministry’s diplomatic academy in central Moscow.

The restaurant received state contracts to provide meals for students, teachers, and visiting foreign diplomats. But according to financial records, the business was not especially profitable. Between 2015 and 2020, its total revenue was only 120 million rubles ($1.6 million).

Polyakova had several other companies listed as restaurant businesses, but they didn’t bring in high revenues either, according to their financial reports

A few sites mention that Svetlana Polyakova is a “restaurateur,” and so I looked to find details about “those other companies.” All that I could find was her position at McDonald’s, as follows:

Irish Times headlined on 19 November 2014 “McDonald’s restaurant in Moscow reopens after being shut” and reported:

McDonald’s largest restaurant in Russia reopened after local officials shuttered the location for three months, an optimistic sign for a company trying to return to business as usual in the country.

The outlet, situated in Moscow’s Pushkin Square, resumed business today, said Svetlana Polyakova, a spokeswoman for McDonald’s Russia.

The “Ad Forum” site shows her as “Advertising Manager at McDonald’s”. The Roscongress Building Trust describes her as “Chief Executive Officer, Charitable Foundation ‘House of Ronald McDonald’; Public Relations Director, McDonald’s Russia”, and says:

Svetlana started as an entry-level employee at McDonald’s in 1989 alongside studying at the School of Education of the Maurice Thorez Institute of Foreign Languages. In 1991, she taught at the Training Department. In 1993, she became a manager of the Marketing Department, and in 1997 she proceeded as a manager of the Public Relations Department.

In 2001, Svetlana was appointed the head of the company’s public relations department. In 2002, she received the highest corporate award of McDonald’s Corporation. For several years in a row, Svetlana was among the 1000 best managers, according to a study by the Managers Association of Russia and the Kommersant Publishing House. From the first days with the company, Svetlana was deeply involved in philanthropy assisting charitable and children support organizations.

In 2002, Svetlana became the General Director of the Ronald McDonald House Charities. For nearly 25 years, the non-profit organization has been implementing programmes aimed at supporting families in need. Under the Svetlana’s leadership, the Ronald McDonald House managed to raise about 1 billion roubles, which helped more than 250,000 Russian children and families. The Foundation implements several important programmes, such as Family Rooms in hospitals, a health and fitness training seminars for specialists working with children with disabilities, two inclusive playgrounds in Sochi and Moscow.

In 2013, with Svetlana’s close involvement, the first and so far the only family hotel in Russia Ronald McDonald House Kazan was opened for parents whose children are undergoing long-term treatment at the Children’s Republican Clinical Hospital of the Ministry of Health of the Republic of Tatarstan. Ronald MacDonald House has become a real home away from home for more than 9,000 parents and children.

For the implementation of this project, the Ronald McDonald House Organization became a three-time winner of the republic’s contest Philanthropist of the Year and received the diploma of the Best Social Project of Russia in 2018.

My Google seach for “Svetlana Polyakova” and “divorce” produced: 

Svetlana Polyakova – The Irish Times

https://www.irishtimes.com › tags › svetlana-polyakova

Svetlana Polyakova · 1. Woman must pay former husband €1.6m as part of divorce settlement, judge rules · 2. ‘This is not easy for me at all’: Gráinne Seoige makes …

and that article is the Irish Times article headlined on 19 November 2014 “McDonald’s restaurant in Moscow reopens after being shut”, but nowhere indicates anything like “Svetlana Polyakova · 1. Woman must pay former husband €1.6m as part of divorce settlement, judge rules · 2. ‘This is not easy for me at all’: Gráinne Seoige makes …”; so, perhaps her divorce settlement has been removed from the Web.

Possibly, she inherited at least her first wealth from her mother. If Svetlana was paying to her former husband, then she was probably wealthier than her husband.

The date of the divorce is likewise not publicly known.

Perhaps Svetlana is so intelligent and sophisticated a person, that her feedback and recommendations to Lavrov make worthwhile her traveling with him on his diplomatic trips. Nobody doubts that Lavrov has been extremely successful as Russia’s Foreign Minister.

In any case: my attempts to find reason to believe the accusations against Lavrov have been as fruitless as my previous attempts to believe that there is corruption at the top level of Russia’s Government. Maybe there is, but the U.S.-and-allied propaganda-organizations haven’t yet provided any evidence for it. By contrast, the documentation that the top levels of the U.S.-and-allied Governments are drowning in corruption is extremely abundant and conclusive, as I have documented in many articles.

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