Russia’s Dangerous Irrelevance
The war in Ukraine has changed the international landscape in Europe in ways which few pundits predicted. The bulk of the political changes which the war has unleashed are thus emerging while stakeholders learn and adapt as they go. The trajectory of developments that the war in Ukraine has set in motion, supported by historical analogies, allows to identify a number of the war’s possible outcomes. Two of those concern scenarios where Russia either loses the war, or becomes entangled in a semi-frozen and continuously engaging conflict. In both cases, assuming that Russia’s leadership with its anti-Western rhetoric remains in place, the burden of sanctions in form of lack of foreign investments, limited access to international capital markets and lesser revenues from hydrocarbon exports should in the long run reduce Russia’s relevance in the international realm. While this appears to have become precisely the goal which the West now wishes to achieve, a waning but unrelentingly aggressive Russia would produce new challenges that need to be thoroughly thought of in advance and addressed preventively.
Russia’s international posture of the past few decades reveals a pattern of behavior and reliance on leverages intended to increase its geopolitical relevance, notably by weaponizing energy and employing military coercion. Today, however, the progressing shift away from Russian hydrocarbons due to sanctions and decarbonization, combined with the deterioration of Russia’s military capacities following its setbacks in Ukraine make it likely that the Kremlin will in time lose much of the leverage on which it has heretofore relied. Yet its excessive reliance on the incomes from sales of hydrocarbons without diversifying its economy, combined with faltering demographics and a shrinking GDP are only cementing Russia’s current nefarious political course. A paradox of sorts, it was rendered possible by the parasitic nature of the Russian governance system, where the state is in position to enforce its preference to pursue arbitrarily determined goals at the expense of and contrary to the interest of its citizens. It is a vestige of Russia’s imperial past, and while as a governance model it could function relatively effectively in times when Moscow had seemingly unlimited human resources at its disposal, i.e. at most until the breakup of the Soviet Union, the same modus operandi is unsustainable with today’s economic and demographic parameters of the Russian Federation. And yet in spite of the lack of Soviet numbers, under Putin’s rule the Kremlin attempts to resuscitate the Soviet might, starting with restoring the latter’s governance praxis. One glaring example of this reorientation towards the past is its recent decision to bring back a quasi-Soviet organization of the Russian army, which under the new proposal is said to expand to 1.5m troops.
Russia’s perseverance is rooted in the antiquated way in which it sees the world’s political dynamics. It is the last large power whose logic of growth its leaders understand through the lens of the need to pursue territorial expansion. For other major powers in today’s international realm, access to global markets deprived territorial expansion of its status of a measure by which states weigh and increase their power. While there are certain exceptions to this rule beyond Russia – think China’s quest to conquer Taiwan or to appropriate swathes of seas whose bedrocks lie rich in resources – territorial absorption is no longer the default paradigm deciding a state’s power. Russian thinking, however, remains entrenched in this otherwise secluded view, and the Kremlin will adapt the means to preserve it rather than adopt a different outlook. In Putin’s view, absorbing Ukraine is the only way out of the disadvantageous geopolitical configuration which it has due to his own faulty assessment found itself in. This is the reason for Russia’s all-in approach and the blatant disregard for the lives of its own military personnel at a time of significant strain on the availability of combat-available population at its disposal.
It is through the prism of the above considerations that Russia’s determination to conquer Ukraine needs to be understood. Its invasion of Ukraine burned most of the remaining bridges linking it to the West, some of which Russia actually needs. And while the Kremlin may not have anticipated the extent of the West’s reaction to the invasion, the consequences of which imperil Russia’s present mode of economic functioning, a year into the widespread bloodshed it has become clear that Putin and his entourage have put all eggs in one basket. They are clearly determined to pursue the already chosen course of action in apparent conviction that in spite of the costs and dangers incurred, long-term commitment to the goal thus set will yield the results sought. And they certainly are aware that the war in Ukraine is, as Andrew Michta described it, a “system-transforming war”, and not a mere inflection point. It is therefore crucial to bear in mind that Russia is in all likelihood not willing to leave the warpath even if crushed by the huge fallout from the conflict.
As Moscow faces increasing hurdles in battlefield and energy markets but gives no signs of relenting, the West should beware od the risks associated with Russian geopolitical ingenuity. The Kremlin has a record of resorting to and combining measures from different spheres of activities in order to achieve palatable outcomes. In its thinking there is no distinction between the states of war and peace, but a continuous space in which colliding interests are pursued by evolving means. Think the little green men in Crimea in 2014, a phenomenon to which few international legal scholars had a ready answer to, or the broad and repetitive interference with the US elections by Russian hacker groups. These are just two among the plethora of examples of how Putin and his cronies innovate to surprise and pursue outcomes in ways which democratic, rules-abiding governments struggle to answer. Being the agent of chaos that it is, the Kremlin sees international disorder as a natural habitat, an environment where war and peace are two sides of the same coin. With its overall resourcefulness dwindling, Russia can only be expected to expand the kinds of operations where greatest impact is possible at the least expense and with least accountability. It is therefore crucial to identify and target the spheres where the Kremlin might display its inventiveness and explore new leverages next.
Western decision makers and intelligence communities are well aware of many of the tricks in Putin’s hybrid warfare playbook. The first set of those concerns the sphere of energy security. In addition to tactics currently observed, e.g. blackmailing of Ukraine-supporting receivers of Russian fuels, the Kremlin may employ more consequential tactics against the West without triggering NATO’s Article 5. Should a long winter in Russia’s relations with the West settle in, the latter’s brainchild that is the green energy transition may become countered in ways barely seen today. These could take form of attempts to incapacitate onshore and offshore energy infrastructure, whether by cyber or physical means. A particularly important vulnerability lies in the software and networks underpinning the functioning of grids and other energy connections. A sophisticated cyber-attack targeting a grid operator or an electric plant may engender more cascading damage than a physical attack whose perimeter may be pinpointed and limited. Such acts may be carried out through groups that are formally independent but loosely associated with Russian security services, and thus without direct causality between the Russian state and the perpetrators. Another, already observed in Europe example of Russian hybrid warfare is the use of “useful idiots”, i.e. sympathizers of the Russian cause stirring domestic trouble in countries supporting Ukraine. Take Poland for instance, where far-right groups actively oppose what they call “Ukrainization” of the country. In various such cases links between such groups and Russia have been revealed.
The above examples are only demonstrative, as there may not be a complete list of the hybrid tactics which the Kremlin may decide to employ. Rather, these and similar examples should put on guard Western decision makers and the state security and civil services. Their overall approach should be one of caution and adaptability. Intelligence gathering, sharing and ingenuity helped the West build the resilience against Russian encroachments during the Cold War era, and then the Soviet Union suddenly collapsed. Resuscitating and sustaining such resilience now when technology is rapidly evolving is key to resisting and ultimately defeating the Kremlin. After all, just as in the post-World War II decades, now again time is working against the Russians.
Putin’s Grand Strategy: The Eurasian Union and its Discontents -Book Review
S. Fredrick Starr and Savante E. Cornell, the co-authors of the book, “Putin’s Grand Strategy: Eurasian Union and its Discontents” are well recognized political scientists. Fredrick Starr is the founding Chairman of Central Asia-Caucasus Institute and Silk Road Studies Program Joint Center, and a Research Professor at the John Hopkins University-SAIS. Savante E. Cornell is the Director of Central Asia-Caucasus Institute and Silk Road Studies Program Joint Center, and a co-founder of the institute for Security and Development Policy, as well as Associate Research Professor at Johns Hopkins University’s Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies. The central theme of the book is Putin’s grand strategy to reintegrate erstwhile Soviet Republics and its potential implications for the neighboring states, as well as for China, European Union and last but not the least for the United States of America.
Author articulates that the revival of Russia began after Putin appeared as the President-elect of Russian Federation. Putin put forward its grand strategy that aimed to restore the Russian sovereignty and geographical integrity. Invasion on Georgia, Kyrgyzstan, Ukraine and the most recent annexation of Crimea all reveal the single-minded focus of Putin in materializing his dream of resurrecting Russian empire. Historical evidences reveal that once an empire (like Roman Empire, Ottoman Empire) collapsed it could never resurrect itself with the sole exception of former Tsarist territories under Soviet rule. Putin considers the reintegration of erstwhile Soviet Republics as the process supported by history itself and he viewed himself as history’s helper. However, it is evident that history in not in favor of Mr. Putin and he can avoid failure only by maintaining paramount military force or by relying on entirely new tactics. Mr. Putin came up with extreme seriousness to co-ordinate different sort of tactics in broader range of sphere so as to provide maximum support for materialization of his grand strategy. This grand strategy is highly centralized in Putin’s own office and he has staked his all in the realization of his “Grand National Dream”.
Author stipulates that Putin’s grand strategy is basically aimed to reintegrate (politico-economically) former Soviet territories and to reestablish Russia’s privileged sphere of influence, and for this purpose Eurasian Economic Union and Customs Union were introduced. According to Russian political scientist, Egor Kholmogorov, “Russians are inherently imperialists” and, thus, both Yeltsin and Putin aimed to establish a neo-imperial bloc under the supervision of Russia. Russia considers itself an autonomous sovereign actor, unshackled by any political association and exercising unfettered power in its own domain. Although Russia regards the Sovereignty and territorial integrity of its erstwhile republics, it still reserves the right to define the extent of that sovereignty and integrity. Thus, Russia deliberately inculcates instability and insecurity in the region to maximize its sphere of influence. Russia aims to be recognized as a pole in multi-polar world and hence, Putin’s grand strategy is entirely geopolitical in its essence. The CST and CSTO were established with the aim to provide collective security system to the neighboring states, but these organizations never participated in any conflict in and around Central Asia. Author puts in that, “Moscow appears to be an insecurity provider, rather than security provider in the region”.
Author looks deeper into Putin’s integration drive and deduces that it is based on ideology and pragmatic considerations. Moscow initially established a Commonwealth of Independent States that facilitated a civilized divorce among the member states, but with the passage of time, this organization proved ineffective in implementing any of its designed policies and thus failed. After CIS, Central Asian states along with Russia established Eurasian Economic Community with the aim to achieve large scale economic integration by reducing multiple trade barriers among the member states, but it also proved to be an ineffective drive like CIS. Later on, in 2011, Russia, Kazakhstan and Belarus established Common Economic Space to deeply integrate their economies. All these integration drives were aimed to re-Sovietize the erstwhile Soviet Republics by extending the Moscow’s privileged sphere of influence. Moscow also viewed the integration drive as agent for diluting China’s rising influence in Central Asia. For Moscow, former Soviet Republics are an easy target for reintegration because of its historic politico-economic and cultural proximity with these states.
Author now takes into account the creation of Collective Security Treaty and articulates that, it was established with the aim to regulate just and fair distribution of assets besides providing collective security to member states. However, Russia never intended to establish any alliance with the aim to underpin any commitment regarding collective security system. Russia only wanted the CSTO to be recognized by international community as an equal and legitimate partner of NATO. Hence, CSTO never participated in any conflict, neither in Central Asia, nor in Caucasus and just maintained an umbrella structure having a mirage of collective security system, and never came into existence in reality. Russia at not a single point, succeeded in using CSTO to undermine the Western encroachments in the region. Thus, it can be ascertained that the crystal clear and irreducible weakness of CSTO, indicates a deep loophole in the grand integration project devised by Mr. Putin.
Author now takes into account the economic dimension of Customs Union and Eurasian Union and articulates that, “In theory, Customs Union may or may not improve on the pre-union situation”, while on practical grounds, Customs Union that relies on protected internal market is incompatible with modern global economy. An ideal Customs Union (European Customs Union) as per the author is the one that promotes trade creation and retards trade diversion, and is thus, welfare increasing in nature. A Customs Union is more likely to fail when it promotes trade diversion, instead of trade creation and involves those states that are out of world’s leading economies, and it is more likely to succeed, when it abolishes external trade barriers and promotes deeper market integration. Customs Union established by former Soviet states failed to achieve the desired objectives, due to mounting negative economic effects on member states. Besides economic integration, Customs Union of Vladimir Putin is evidently a geopolitical struggle through which Russia wants to reinstall its hegemony over erstwhile Soviet republics.
Author now takes into account the different strategies harnessed by Putin to propel its reintegration dream. Mr. Putin deftly employed these instruments in a shifting manner to confuse and render ineffective any foreign counter strategy. One of the most effective instruments used by Putin is the control and manipulation of information disseminating from Russian media. Another vital instrument in Putin’s toolkit is the subversion through co-option that involves the deliberate weakening of statehood and installation of pro-Russian forces across the erstwhile Soviet territories. This strategy of subversion ranges from feeding opposition politicians to deeper penetration in government institutions, and to violent campaigns involving bombings and assassinations. Besides these, Moscow also supports opposition forces (as in case of Georgia in 2008), extremists and civil society in propelling Putin’s grand scheme. Besides installing civil society organizations in advancing its grand strategy, Kremlin also financed far-right extremist parties in West to advance its agenda. In addition to these tactics, Putin also reserves the right to use economic warfare (in case of Armenia) against its neighbors to regulate their outlook vis-a-vis Eurasian integration project. Finally, Russia uses another tactic of exploiting unresolved ethnic conflicts (as in the case of Abkhazia, South Ossetia, Nagorno-Karabakh and Transnistria). Moscow deftly utilizes all these instruments to propel its reintegration drive and to halt the advancement of West and China in Europe and East respectively.
Vladimir Putin declared the dismemberment of Soviet Union as the greatest “geopolitical disaster of the 20th century”. To resurrect the Russian privileged sphere of influence, Putin came up with grand project of Eurasian integration to integrate former soviet territories. In response to Putin’s integration plan, states responded in different ways. Kazakhstan and Belarus appreciated the project of Eurasian Customs Union but suggested Putin to restrict the focus of ECU to economic issues. Similarly, in Kazakhstan and Belarus public opinion polls showed that majority of people were in favor of the membership of Eurasian Customs Union. Russia enjoys multiple levers of Belarus and Kazakhstan to pressurize them for their support in Eurasian integration project. However, both these states in future may rethink of their commitment to Putin’s grand Eurasian Customs Union project.
Author now takes into account Armenian response to Putin’s Eurasian Union project and entails that Armenia instead of Joining EU, joined Russia-led CIS and CSTO as pre-requisite for Russian political and security support, particularly over the issue of Nagorno-Karabakh. Russia enjoys levers over Armenia due to Armenia’s heavy reliance on Russian energy supplies. To maintain its influence over Armenia, Russia often threatened Armenia to debar its exports, and to deport large amount of Armenian labors working in Russia, that would ultimately devastate Armenian economy. Thus, under Russian pressure, Armenia suspended the negotiations on Association Agreement with EU, and in reality has lost its ability to act out of Russian influence. In sum, being used as an instrument in the hands of Russia, Armenia may lead to regional destabilization. Kyrgyzstan initially stayed away from any Russian-led integration project, and maintained close ties with the West to rebuild its economy. However, it began to adopt multi-vector foreign policy in the mid-90s, with pro-Western stance relaxed. Tajikistan is considered to be more dependent on Russia than Kyrgyzstan, and both states in a joint agreement agreed to extend Russian military bases in Armenia till 2042.
Membership of Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan in Customs Union is although beneficial for both states, but it would pose harm to both states, particularly in terms of higher inflation and living cost. Author declares Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan as among the states most vulnerable to Russian levers. Similarly, owing to tense relations with Large neighbor Uzbekistan, both states view Russia as a security guarantor against potential aggressor. However, Russian influence in the region has been neutralized to some extent by China’s recent engagements in the region. Thus, author concludes that, “Russia no more has monopoly on wielding cultural, economic and political influence in Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan.”
Author turns towards Ukraine and articulates that throughout its independence, it has considered itself as a European state, and distinguishes itself from proverbial ‘elder brother’, Russia in lacking a Eurasian ideology. Thus, Ukraine stayed away from any Russian-led integration project in the region from last two decades, and it seems that Ukraine has closed its door for Eurasian Union. Author now analyzes the potential role of European Union in the Eastern Partnership project and articulates that, despite recent economic problems EU remains ‘a major magnet for trade, investment as well as labor migrants from many parts of the World.’ European Union is contemplated as largest trading partner for Georgia and Moldova. The advantage of ECU over EU is that Georgian and Moldovan products are well known in ECU member countries, and require less marketing and promotional efforts. From last couple of decades, Georgian political elite supported European integration as it would maintain their sovereignty and independence from foreign influence. Although, Russia retains significant leverage over both Georgia and Moldova, due to their respective unresolved conflicts, it lost its leverage over Georgia due to Georgia’s participation in strategic energy transit projects and its shift to Azerbaijani oil and gas, and thus has liberated Georgia from Russian sphere of influence. However, due to its historic Soviet legacy, Russia still retains economic leverage over Moldova, and has consistently used its economic Muscle to keep Moldova away from European Union.
Author now takes into account the case study of Azerbaijan. Azerbaijan has been among the countries most reluctant to Russian-led integration project, since its independence. Numerous analysts stipulate that Azerbaijani membership to Customs Union would be an ‘economic and political suicide’ for country. Thus over the period of time, Azerbaijan maintained its non-aligned posture and kept itself away from any integration project. Although, Russia still retains a significant leverage over Azerbaijan, it has not utilized it due to policy of non-alignment of Azerbaijan against both the EU and ECU. Besides Azerbaijan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan have been skeptical of Russian geopolitical project over the period of time. Uzbekistan was central politico-economic hub of Central Asia during Soviet times, while Turkmenistan was out of any significant political role. Russia has certain levers over both these states that it can use to pressurize both these states, as it can cutoff the bilateral trade with Uzbekistan and has also began to use ‘water and energy card’ against both these states. Turkmenistan denied joining any Russian-led integration drive, as country’s founding documents have maintained its non-aligned posture. Thus, if any or both of these countries are forced to integrate into Eurasian Union, it will unleash powerful destabilizing forces throughout the region.
Author articulates that over past decade, Central Asia has been dominated by two regional powers- Russia and China. With the rising Chinese influence in the region, it appeared that both these countries would become arch rivals, as their interests would clash at certain points, however, with the passage of time, both these states identified areas of mutual co-operation. Both these states have come to know that they share certain interests across the globe, and thus have to accept the presence of each other in the region. Russia also acknowledges its inability to compete with rising china’s economic power. Thus, for the time being, both these states have been able to find co-operational, rather than confrontational approaches to the Central Asian region. However, rising China’s influence is undoubtedly a serious challenge in the way of Putin’s grand strategy and it can only be dealt by maintaining strong political ties with Central Asian states and by strengthening its influence in security and military. China does not intend to pose any harm to any Russian-led integration drive until it does not challenge China’s interests. Although, Moscow is considered to be dominant politico-cultural and military power in the region, the rising economic might of China would further make Russia to retreat its place for China in the region.
Author now compares the European Union led Eastern Partnership and Russian-led Eurasian Union. When EU put forward its Eastern Partnership, Russia considered it as an attempt to establish ‘a sphere of influence’. Although Moscow was traditionally less concerned about European Union, however, Moscow no longer saw the EU as a soft politics actor, but as a force threatening Russian sphere of influence. Author identifies a fundamental ideological incompatibility between EU-led Eastern Partnership project and Moscow-led Eurasian Union. European Union in its Eastern Partnership constitutes a set of rules that are considered to be a moral threat to imperial ambitions that lie at the heart of Putin’s grand strategy. In addition to it, while EU offers “more for more”, Russia offers states that if they did not succumb to its strategy, it would tear their country apart. Thus, in order to undermine Russian reintegration drive, EU will have to come up with hard power response backed by US-led NATO, along with the strategy to counteract his manipulation of frozen conflicts.
Finally, author turn towards American response to Eurasian Union project, and articulates that America largely considered the Russian-led Eurasian project as mere an economic arrangement entered into sovereign states by their own will. Thus, United States of America neither envisaged the basic intentions behind the project, nor did it devise any counter strategy, as a result its response to Putin-led Eurasian Union largely remains out of focus. America believed that post-Soviet Russia would be a partner rather than an adversary. Thus, America maintained its policy of ignorance, when Russia directed other states to seek prior-approval from Moscow before entering into any arrangements with Washington, and during its invasion on Georgia in 2008. However, Obama administration propelled ‘Reset policy’ to dissuade any further adventure of Moscow. Moscow wanted America to recognize its ‘privileged sphere of influence’ that America denied at every instance, but Moscow drew inference from Washington’s actions rather than its rhetoric. However, it can be inferred that in response to Putin, US would remain on the sideline, either because its policy of sanctions will ultimately succeed in the end, or US lacks the resources to double down on Russia.
In sum, authors have tremendously explained the re-integration scheme of Vladimir Putin, and the response of post-Soviet states to this project. Authors rightly established that United States of America has failed to contain Russia from taking foreign encroachments in achieving its dream. Moreover, authors have brilliantly analyzed the case study of every state vis-à-vis Putin’s grand strategy and potential consequences of the states’ behavior towards the grand strategy. However, authors could not maintain an impartial analysis throughout the book which is contemplated as a primary pre-requisite for any academician. In addition to it, authors could not provide logical reasoning behind their speculation that “Putin’s grand strategy would be an ultimate failure in the end.”
S. Fredrick Starr& Savante E. Cornell, Putin’s Grand Strategy: The Eurasian Union and its Discontents, (Central Asia-Caucasus Institute Silk Road Studies Program, 2014), 210.
Don’t listen to the naysayers, the ICC’s arrest warrant for Putin is a game changer
The International Criminal Court’s decision to issue an arrest warrant for Vladimir Putin is a game changer. The wheels of justice are turning, and not in Putin’s favour.
This comes as the ICC issued an arrest warrant for Putin last week, accusing him of responsibility for illegally transferring Ukrainian children to Russia, which is a war crime. A warrant was also issued for Maria Alekseyevna Lvova-Belova, Russia’s commissioner for children’s rights.
The Ukrainian government welcomed the decision. Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba reacted to the warrant by stating that the “wheels of Justice are turning: I applaud the ICC decision to issue arrest warrants for Vladimir Putin and Maria Lvova-Belova” and that “international criminals will be held accountable for stealing children and other international crimes.”
Both Putin and Lvova-Belova have been accused of forcefully transferring thousands of Ukrainian children across the border to Russia.
The Ukrainian government claims 16,226 children – ranging from infants to teenagers – have been deported to Russia, while others estimate a figure closer to 400,000.
It’s reported this is part of a large-scale, systematic attempt at adopting and ‘re-educating’ thousands of Ukrainian children in at least 40 camps throughout Russia.
Kubela has labelled Russia’s actions as “probably the largest forced deportation in modern history” and a “genocidal crime”.
Russian officials have been surprisingly open about the transfer of children, unapologetically claiming it is part of a humanitarian project designed to re-home orphaned Ukrainian children.
The ICC investigators clearly disagree.
Commentators and legal experts have pointed out that the court has no powers to enforce its own warrants and that – because Russia is not a party to the court – it is also incredibly unlikely Putin will find himself in The Hague.
While these observations are probably correct, they ignore the broader implications of the court’s decision.
Putin is the first world leader to have a warrant issued for his arrest since former Sudanese President Omar Al-Bashir was issued a warrant by the court in 2009.
Like Al-Bashir, Putin is unlikely to be arrested outside of Russia.
But symbolism is important. It signals to despots around the world that they cannot commit heinous crimes with impunity.
It’s also important for Ukrainians, validating their suffering by having their abuser named and shamed.
The warrant also sets the scene for a larger investigation into crimes committed in Ukraine by Putin’s regime.
Yesterday, the Prosecutor General of Ukraine Kostin Andriy signed an agreement with the court to establish an ICC country office in Ukraine.
This is a signal that the court intends to investigate other alleged war crimes committed in Ukraine.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has claimed Russia has committed over 400 war crimes in the Kherson region alone.
Mass graves have also been discovered outside the towns of Bucha and Izium, with 400 and 450 bodies found respectively. Russia has been accused of murdering and murdering these people.
There have also been several documented attacks on civilian infrastructure by Russian forces, including the now infamous airstrikes on a theatre and maternity hospital in Mariupol.
Greater collaboration between Ukrainian war crimes investigators and the court will likely result in more crimes being documented and more charges laid against Putin and his officials.
The decision by the ICC also isolates Putin at a time when he is searching for allies around the world.
Last year, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov went on a diplomatic spree across Africa to build support for the invasion in the region. This includes trips to Libya, Mali, Sudan, the Central African Republic and Mozambique.
Russia has also leant heavily on ‘BRICS’ countries, an informal bloc of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa.
The problem for Putin is that any country that has signed up to the 1998 Rome Statute of the ICC must arrest him if he enters their country.
In what is a case of sublime timing, Putin is scheduled to meet with his BRICS counterparts in South Africa – which is a signatory to the statute – in August.
A spokesman for South African President Cyril Ramaphosa admitted the government faces a dilemma, stating that “we are, as the government, cognisant of our legal obligation”.
The government of Brazil echoed similar sentiments. This week, the Minister of Foreign Affars Mauro Vieira said that Putin could be arrested if he entered the country. Another unnamed government official warned that “anyone who goes to a country that is a member of the ICC can have problems, I have no doubt about that.”
Even if South Africa falls foul of its legal obligations – like it did by not arresting Al-Bashir in 2015 – it still represents a two-fold problem for Putin. He will be hesitant to travel abroad for fear of arrest, and his so-called allies will be hesitant to visit Russia to avoid associating themselves with a wanted war criminal.
The seriousness of the situation for Putin’s regime can be seen in their response.
Former Russian President Dmitry Medvedev responded to the arrest warrant threatening any attempt to arrest Putin would be a “declaration of war” and suggested Russia could fire missiles at the ICC headquarters in The Hague.
The Speaker of the Russian Duma Vyacheslav Volodin claimed the arrest warrant was more evidence of western “hysteria” and that “we regard any attacks on the President of the Russian Federation as aggression against our country.”
The bluster coming out of Moscow suggests the regime was surprised by the decision.
It is an acknowledgement that – overnight – the situation changed for Putin, and not for the better.
If Putin wasn’t a global pariah before, he certainly is now.
There are 123 countries he will fear travelling to and his regime – whether found guilty or not – will be forever tainted with the deaths of thousands of innocent men, women and children.
With both Ukraine and the European Union planning to establish tribunals to prosecute Russian war crimes, the pressure will only continue to build on Putin’s regime.
Will Putin ever find himself in The Hague? It is unlikely. History shows it is hard to arrest and convict heads of state.
But – just like the late Slobodan Milošević – leaders can often find themselves in places they least expect.
How Russia Can Build Relations With Friendly Countries
A year into the conflict between Russia and the West turning into a proxy military confrontation, the most important lesson learned in terms of the international consequences of these developments is that such a large and powerful country really cannot be isolated in terms of foreign policy. It is difficult to say with certainty how much this is connected with the merits and activity of the Russian state itself, and what simply turned out to be an inevitable consequence of the changing world over the past three-four decades.
Much more important is the result: a year after the United States and its allies announced their determination to seriously limit Moscow’s opportunities for international communication, the vast majority of countries maintain stable working relations with Russia; they trade and cooperate in various sectors. In most cases, new contacts are limited not even by Western pressure on third countries, but by Russia’s own unpreparedness to follow through on so many suddenly-open opportunities. This has become so obvious over the past few months that it is recognised even by the opponents of Russia, for whom any concession to conventional common sense is a deep and tragic experience.
We cannot now say with certainty to what extent Russia itself is capable of fully realising the new features of its international position or its true causes. The understanding of this, apparently, exists among the top Russian leadership and has become one of the reasons for its confidence that it is right, along with the conviction that a new stage in relations with the West is not only inevitable, but also necessary in the context of the development of Russia’s political civilisation. However, at the level of the implementation of a specific policy by the state apparatus, the activities of the business sector, the reflections of the expert community or the practical activities of NGOs, we still have to work on developing a number of important habits and come to an understanding of the nature of relations between Russia and the outside world.
First of all, it is necessary to understand that the new quality of relations with the outside world cannot be considered in the context of the conflict between Russia and the West. The military-political confrontation with the United States and its allies is central to ensuring national security. However, the specific causes of the conflict are the result of how Russian-Western relations developed after the Cold War and are very indirectly related to the fate, interests and aspirations of the rest of the world. The way most states behaved towards Russia is a consequence of their own development and interests. These two factors are much more stable and long-term than the current clash between Russia and the West, so it would be erroneous, even at the theoretical level, to link the conflict in one direction and cooperation in the other. Moreover, this may turn out to be a mistake, since it can create confidence that the development of relations with non-Western states is a temporary measure, a necessity that will disappear or decrease after the acute phase of the conflict with the West ends.
Second, the behaviour of those states that do not now oppose Russia and even cooperate with it (which has become commonplace) is not a sign that they are allies of Moscow or are slated to become allies under certain circumstances. There are, of course, exceptions, and even very large ones. China, for example, associates its security and ability to realize foreign policy interests with Russia. A similar position is held by Iran, for which the inability of Russia and China to limit the assertiveness of the West may pose a serious threat in the future. In addition, there is a group of countries already associated with Moscow much more significantly than with its adversaries or third powers. However, in general, the so-called World Majority is not a group of states united by common interests, but an indicator of the democratic state of international politics.
Third, a significant number of states are friendly to Russia precisely because, in principle, they do not need allies or patrons, and rely only on their diplomatic skills. In other words, what brings them closer to Russia’s interests now is at the same time an obstacle to establishing a more solid or formalised relationship, not to mention listening to Russia’s opinions on value issues or even the way things are done in the world. One of the reasons why the United States is growing weaker in its ability to convince others that it is right is precisely that many countries are quite capable of formulating their own ideas about a fair domestic and international order. It would be a little naïve to think that there are those seeking to replace one external adviser with another.
In this regard, Russia may need to take a more careful and prudent approach to the question of the reasons for the sympathies that exist throughout the world in relation to it. In fact, dissatisfaction with oppression from the US and Europe is only one aspect of the motives that determine the desire of many states for greater independence. Perhaps this is even a little more important than the desire to benefit from relations with Russia amid conditions where it has turned to the rest of the world and connects with it many of the issues related to its economic stability. But value issues, also play a significant role. In this respect, Russia really has something to be proud of without trying at the same time to offer more comprehensive plans and objectives. Here we are talking about what makes the modern Russian state attractive to others.
The so-called “soft power”, i.e. the ability to influence the decisions of other countries in ways other than forceful pressure and bribery, is not a product of a nation’s diplomatic activity, but the degree of closeness of the internal structure to abstract ideals that exist in the minds of others. It would be a mistake to think that the state can increase its attractiveness only by investing in the expansion of culture, science or education. Moreover, exaggerated attention to these areas of activity can provoke opposition from the elites of partner countries, for which control over the minds and hearts of citizens is an essential part of strengthening their own power. Even more so, it is impossible to become attractive by organizing the direct bribery of journalists or those who are commonly called leaders of public opinion. First of all, because opponents will always be able to offer a higher price and, furthermore, a more quiet shelter.
However, much more effective than investing in self-advertising abroad can be an increase in openness to the outside world. Modern Russia for most countries in Asia, Africa and the Middle East is truly a unique society that combines visible signs of European culture and traditions, on the one hand, and a tolerance for other religions and ethnic diversity that is completely uncharacteristic of the West. Already now one can hear from diplomats from Islamic countries that among all the states of the global North, Russia is the most comfortable for Muslims to live.
The same applies to smaller religious communities. Unlike European states, Russia preserves and cultivates ethnic diversity. All these are the real advantages of Russia in the eyes of humanity, with which we will have to live and cooperate in the coming decades, if not longer. The sooner we understand that the basis of “soft power” is internal, and not in the activities of Russia’s representatives abroad, the sooner we will be able to benefit from our own objective advantages.
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