Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s article on cooperation in the Caspian Region

September 20, 2022

The Caspian – a unique region of neighbourliness

On June 29, 2022, Ashgabat hosted an important international event, the 6th Caspian Summit, and I believe it is important to consider the role and place of the Caspian Region in the fairer, more democratic and sustainable multi-polar system that is taking shape today.

The importance of the Caspian Region for the Russian Federation is determined by its strategic location in the centre of Eurasia, at the crossroads of its transport and energy routes, the presence of a huge amount of mineral and biological resources and the intertwining of the local cultures that coexist here.

Russia’s vital interests include durable peace, stability and security in the Caspian Region, sustainable development based on neighbourliness, trust and cooperation of the coastal states, and the use of its economic, including transit, potential to the mutual benefit of the coastal states. A key task is to ensure the rational use of natural resources in the region, protect and preserve the environment of this unique body of water, and guarantee ecological and transport security in its basin. With these aims in mind, Russia advocates the systemic, comprehensive development of cooperation among the five nations and the gradual institutionalisation of this process. We are doing much to expand ties with our neighbours in all areas.

We believe all Caspian issues should be resolved solely by consensus of the five coastal states. Extra-regional forces should not be allowed to exert a negative influence.

Despite the ancient history of the region, the current system of cooperation has taken shape there relatively recently. After the Soviet Union’s disintegration, the number of Caspian states increased from two to five. For this reason, joint administration of the Caspian Sea via constructive cooperation moved to the fore in the early 1990s.

In October 1992, the heads of state and government of the Caspian states met in Tehran to discuss the possibility of establishing a Caspian Economic Cooperation Organisation. The participants reviewed prospects for setting up such entities as a Caspian interstate oil company, Caspian interstate bank of economic cooperation, Caspian development bank, a centre for Caspian economic and political studies, and a centre for the studies of Caspian bio resources.

These initiatives were not translated into reality for several reasons, including the unregulated legal status of the Caspian Sea. In the process the five Caspian states – Azerbaijan, Iran, Kazakhstan, Russia and Turkmenistan – agreed on the need to draft principles and rules and create special cooperative bodies and institutions in the region. I would like to emphasise that the five-member cooperation format took shape naturally by virtue of political and geographical factors and the need to jointly manage the unique Caspian Sea.

The 5th Caspian Summit in Aktau (Kazakhstan) in 2018 marked a very important step, with participants signing a Convention on the Legal Status of the Caspian Sea, a kind of a Caspian constitution. This document is based on the consent of the sides (recorded in the preamble) to observe several principles: sovereign rights to the Caspian Sea and its resources belong to them alone; they are responsible to current and future generations for preserving the region and promoting its sustainable development, and they have exclusive authority to settle Caspian Sea issues.

I would like to emphasise 17 principles governing the activities of the sides (Article 3 of the Convention). In effect, they boil down to the code of conduct in the region and help preserve it as an area of peace, neighbourly relations and cooperation. These principles are comprehensive and embrace both universally recognised standards of international law, including respect for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of states and rules for practical cooperation between partners.

The sides have adopted a large number of security provisions, some of which are of particular importance. Thus, they pledged to prevent the presence of armed forces of third countries in the Caspian Sea, to refrain from prejudicing each other’s security and to implement military confidence building measures.

The negotiations over the convention lasted for over 20 years and were eventually crowned with a diplomatic compromise based on the verified balance of interests. Speedy ratification of the convention by the sides is in the best interests of regional stability and steady progress.

It goes without saying that the five Caspian nations are not going to fence themselves off from the outside world, especially in the economic sphere. However, we and our partners are firmly committed to the position that outside interference in our affairs is unacceptable.

This means that interaction with players outside the region can occur only with the approval of all five members for the purposes of addressing pressing issues facing the Caspian. Examples include initiatives that are implemented jointly with UN agencies (the UN Human Settlements Programme project titled “Urbanisation and Climate Change Adaptation in the Caspian Sea region,” the UN Environment Programme and the UN Development Programme project on combating pollution of the Caspian Sea with marine litter and plastic waste).

Sectoral cooperation is making progress alongside the efforts to draft and adopt the convention and is being consistently codified in international treaties, such as the Framework Convention for the Protection of the Marine Environment of the Caspian Sea, the Agreement on Security Cooperation in the Caspian Sea, and cooperation agreements in other areas ranging from transport and logistics to emergency relief.

The five leaders’ personal contribution to Caspian cooperation can hardly be overstated. Each summit has helped expand and deepen interaction. During the most recent sixth summit, the principles underlying the activities of the five nations were confirmed and thus became political commitments, which fully ensures that they will guide our practical activities.

In Ashgabat, the heads of state reviewed cooperation priorities, including the efforts to tap the Caspian Sea’s transport, energy and resource potential and to ensure environmental safety and cooperation in tourism and culture. The prospects for industrial cooperation and project activities in the high-tech industry were discussed in detail. A number of highly constructive initiatives have been put forward, in particular, President of Kazakhstan Tokayev’s proposal to create a Caspian food “hub” and President of Turkmenistan Berdimuhamedov’s idea to set up a Business Cooperation Council.

An important achievement was the agreement to create a permanent facility for holding five-nation foreign ministers’ meetings in order to discuss development issues and improve the partnership of the Caspian countries, develop coordinated measures for implementing decisions, and draft the agenda and list of final documents for the summits. The ministers will coordinate interaction within the five-nation sector-specific mechanisms.

Thus, we can safely assume that Caspian cooperation is going at a fast clip and breaking new ground. Clearly, far from all issues facing the Caspian countries have been resolved. Some require additional political and diplomatic efforts, such as approving the draft Agreement on methodology for establishing straight baselines in the Caspian Sea which, once adopted by the parties, will make it possible to complete the delimitation of water areas.

In addition, it is important to speed up the process of approving five-nation draft documents in a number of key areas of intersectoral cooperation, such as maritime transport, search and rescue, navigation safety, marine scientific research, combating poaching and the drug threat. Further consolidation of efforts to prevent sanitary and epidemiological emergencies and to respond to outbreaks of infectious diseases is greatly needed. Discussions on the Tehran Convention Secretariat’s rules of procedure are ongoing.

In the economic area it is important to keep up efforts to achieve the balanced use of Caspian energy and transit capacities, which requires consideration of all the countries’ interests and environmental security factors. Our region has every chance to become one of Eurasia’s biggest hubs for multi-modal transcontinental shipments, primarily by tapping the potential of the North-South international transport corridor.

Expanding cooperation between regions of the five countries will facilitate Caspian interaction. Cultural cooperation and the development of tourism, including cruise routes, are other promising avenues.

The institualisation of five-nation cooperation should remain at the centre of attention. This process is making headway – regular meetings of the leaders of the Caspian states have already become a tradition.

The Caspian Economic Forum at the heads of government level has become an important format. Its first meeting took place at the initiative of Turkmenistan in 2019. In October 2022, Moscow will host its second forum. We hope it will provide a fresh impetus to the trade and economic aspects of Caspian cooperation.

The institution of the Conference of the Parties to the Tehran Convention is up and running. The commission for the preservation and rational use of aquatic biological resources and management of their common reserves holds sessions every year. The Coordination Committee for Hydrometeorology of the Caspian Sea meets as well. There are agreements on mechanisms for regular ministerial meetings, including the afore-mentioned meetings of foreign ministers as well as their transport and economic counterparts. The high-level working group of deputy foreign ministers/special envoys of the Caspian states is in operation. It was established following the 5th Caspian Summit. I would like to emphasise that all five-nation issues are resolved by consensus.

To make existing structures and mechanisms more efficient, it makes sense to turn them into a uniform regional system. At the current stage, the formation of a flexible five-nation forum – the Caspian Council – seems to be the best way of achieving this. The proposed council should function without a secretariat or other bureaucratic add-ons. The five Caspian countries studied this idea at the expert level and Russia proposed it at the 6th Caspian Summit. We agree with President of Kazakhstan Kassym-Jomart Tokayev who supported our initiative. He said the Caspian Sea was ready for new steps on institutionalising five-way cooperation.

We have consistently held that the efforts of the five nations to promote the sustainable development of the Caspian Region help maintain stability throughout Greater Eurasia and fuse the creative potential of the states and their integration associations in our common Eurasian home. Russia seeks to continue working closely with its Caspian partners to achieve these and other ambitious goals in accordance with the principles of the Convention on the Legal Status of the Caspian Sea.

Six months into Ukraine’s collapse, the world has changed forever

The inevitable transfer of power away from the west is leading to a surge in state-sponsored terrorism, but this will do little to reverse the trend

August 24 2022

By Pepe Escobar

Six months after the start of the Special Military Operation (SMO) by Russia in Ukraine, the geopolitical tectonic plates of the 21st century have been dislocated at astonishing speed and depth – with immense historical repercussions already at hand.

To paraphrase T.S. Eliot, this is the way the (new) world begins, not with a whimper but a bang.

The cold-blooded assassination of Darya Dugina – terrorism at the gates of Moscow – may have fatefully coincided with the six-month intersection point, but will do nothing to change the dynamics of the current, work-in-progress, historical shift.

Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) appeared to have cracked the case in a little over 24 hours, designating the perpetrator as a neo-Nazi Azov operative instrumentalized by the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) – itself a mere tool of the CIA/MI6 combo that de facto rules Kiev.

The Azov operative is just a patsy. The FSB will never reveal in public the intel it has amassed on those that issued the orders, and how they will be dealt with.

One Ilya Ponomaryov, an anti-Kremlin minor character granted Ukrainian citizenship, boasted he was in contact with the outfit that prepared the hit on the Dugin family. No one took him seriously.

What is manifestly serious, however, is how oligarchy-connected organized crime factions in Russia would have a motive to eliminate Alexander Dugin, the Christian Orthodox nationalist philosopher who, according to them, may have influenced the Kremlin’s pivot to Asia (he didn’t).

These organized crime factions blamed Dugin for a concerted Kremlin offensive against the disproportional power of Jewish oligarchs in Russia. So these actors would have both the motive and the local know-how to mount such a coup.

If that’s the case, it potentially spells out a Mossad-linked operation – especially given the serious schism in Moscow’s recent relations with Tel Aviv. What’s certain is that the FSB will keep their cards very close to their chest – and retribution will be swift, precise and invisible.

The straw that broke the camel’s back

Instead of delivering a serious blow to Russia’s psyche that could impact the dynamics of its operations in Ukraine, the assassination of Darya Dugina only exposed the perpetrators as tawdry killers who have exhausted their options.

An IED cannot kill a philosopher – or his daughter. In an essential essay, Dugin himself explained how the real war – Russia against the US-led collective west – is a war of ideas. An existential war.

Dugin correctly defines the US as a “thalassocracy,” heir to “Britannia rules the waves.” Yet now the geopolitical tectonic plates are spelling out a new order: The Return of the Heartland.

Russian President Vladimir Putin himself first spelled it out at the Munich Security Conference in 2007. China’s Xi Jinping put it into action by launching the New Silk Roads in 2013. The Empire struck back with Maidan in 2014. Russia counter-attacked by coming to the aid of Syria in 2015.

The Empire doubled down on Ukraine, with NATO weaponizing it non-stop for eight years. At the end of 2021, Moscow invited Washington for a serious dialogue on “indivisibility of security” in Europe. That was dismissed with a non-response response.

Moscow took no time to assess that a dangerous US-led trifecta was instead in the works: an imminent Kiev blitzkrieg against Donbass; Ukraine flirting with acquiring nuclear weapons; and the work of US bioweapon labs. That was the straw that broke the camel’s back.

A consistent analysis of Putin’s public interventions these past few months reveals that the Kremlin – as well as Security Council Yoda Nikolai Patrushev – fully realize how the politico/media talking heads and shock troops of the collective west are directed by the rulers of Finance Capitalism.

As a direct consequence, they also realize how western public opinion is absolutely clueless, Plato cave-style, totally captive to the ruling financial class, who cannot tolerate any alternative narrative.

So Putin, Patrushev, and their peers will never presume that a senile teleprompter reader in the White House or a cokehead comedian in Kiev “rule” anything.

As the US rules global pop culture, it is fitting to borrow from what Walter White/Heisenberg, an average American channeling his inner bad, states in Breaking Bad: “I’m in the Empire business.” And the Empire business is to exercise raw power, maintained with ruthlessness, by all means necessary.

Russia broke that spell. But Moscow’s strategy is way more sophisticated than leveling Kiev with hypersonic weapons, something that could have been done at any moment, starting six months ago.

Instead, what Moscow is doing is talking to virtually the entire Global South, bilaterally or to groups of actors, explaining how the world-system is changing right before our eyes, with the key actors of the future configured as the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU), BRICS+, the Greater Eurasia Partnership.

And what we see is vast swathes of the Global South – or 85 percent of the world’s population – slowly but surely becoming ready to engage in expelling the finance capitalists from their national horizons, and ultimately taking them down: a long, tortuous battle that will imply multiple setbacks.

The facts on the ground

On the ground in soon-to-be rump Ukraine, Khinzal hypersonic weapons launched from Tu-22M3 bombers or Mig-31 interceptors  will continue to be employed.

Piles of HIMARS will continue to be captured. TOS 1A Heavy Flamethrowers will keep sending invitations to the gates of hell. Crimean Air Defense will continue to intercept all sorts of small drones with IEDs attached. Terrorism by local SBU cells will eventually be smashed.

Using essentially a phenomenal artillery barrage – cheap and mass-produced – Russia will annex Donbass, very valuable in terms of land, natural resources and industrial power. And then on to Nikolaev, Odessa, and Kharkov.

Geoeconomically, Russia can afford to sell its oil with fat discounts to any Global South customer, not to mention strategic partners China and India. Cost of extraction reaches a maximum of $15 per barrel, with a national budget based on $40-45 for a barrel of Urals, whose market value today is almost double that.

A new Russian benchmark is imminent, as well as oil in rubles following the wildly successful gas for rubles scheme.

The assassination of Darya Dugina provoked endless speculation about the Kremlin and the Ministry of Defense finally breaking their discipline. That’s not going to happen. Russian advances along the enormous 1,800-mile battle front are relentless, highly systematic, and deeply invested in a Greater Strategic Picture.

A key vector is whether Russia stands a chance of winning the information war with the west. That will never happen inside NATO’s realm – even as success after success is unfolding across the Global South.

As Glenn Diesen has masterfully demonstrated in his latest book, Russophobia, the collective west is viscerally impervious to admitting any social, cultural, historical merits by Russia.

They have already catapulted themselves into the irrationality stratosphere: the grinding down and de facto demilitarization of the imperial proxy army in Ukraine is driving the Empire’s handlers and its vassals literally nuts.

But the Global South should never lose sight of the ‘Empire business.’ That industry excels in producing chaos and plunder, always supported by extortion, bribery of local elites, and assassinations on the cheap. Every trick in the Divide and Rule book should be expected at any moment. Never underestimate a bitter, wounded, deeply humiliated, declining Empire.

Fasten your seat belts for more of this tense dynamic for the remainder of the decade.

But before that, all along the watchtower, get ready for the arrival of General Winter, whose riders are fast approaching. When the winds begin to howl, Europe will be freezing in the dead of dark nights, lit up occasionally by its finance capitalists puffing on fat cigars.

The views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect those of The Cradle.

Sergey Lavrov: Roundtable discussion SCO Treaties

June 30, 2022

Source

Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s video address to the organisers of and participants in the roundtable discussion dedicated to the 20th anniversary of the SCO Charter and the 15th anniversary of the SCO Treaty on Long-Term Good-Neighbourliness, Friendship and Cooperation, June 29, 2022

Colleagues, friends,

I bid a most cordial and hearty welcome to the organisers of and participants in the roundtable discussion dedicated to two landmark events in the development of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation. I am referring to the 20th anniversary of the SCO Charter and the 15th anniversary of the SCO Treaty on Long-Term Good-Neighbourliness, Friendship and Cooperation.

These fundamental documents establish aims and objectives, principles, rights and obligations, whereby the member states are guided in their joint efforts undertaken in the name of a safe and stable common future as well as the well-being and prosperity of their peoples. The values of mutual understanding and trust, equality and consensus, as well as the refusal to participate in hostile actions against each other or directed against third countries serve as a firm foundation for strengthening the spirit of mutual understanding and partnership inherent in the SCO.

Today, our Organisation is a dynamic international union of a new type, located in vast Eurasian expanses. It is distinguished by a creative philosophy and an ability to constantly generate creative energy in the name of achieving common goals. The SCO is by right perceived in the world as a recognised, authoritative, reliable and attractive partner, which is making a significant contribution to maintaining peace and stability, and ensuring sustainable development in Eurasia.

Russia’s foreign policy priorities include strengthening the SCO in a comprehensive way and promoting a meaningful dialogue and practical cooperation in the area of security, the economy, and humanitarian ties. We have consistently advocated greater coordination between the member states in international affairs and strengthening the impact of collaboration with observer states, dialogue partners, and interested multilateral organisations. It is important to continue the coordinated policy towards expanding the SCO, while carefully weighing each step, primarily from the point of view of whether it can really strengthen the Organisation.

Counteracting terrorism, drug trafficking and trans-border organised crime is a matter of particular importance on the SCO agenda.  Given the growing scale of interconnected challenges and threats, we continue the work to implement our leaders’ decisions on improving the mechanisms designed to counteract these risks, this in compliance with the relevant initiatives put forward by member states. Simultaneously, measures are being taken to expand the functional potential of the Regional Anti-Terrorist Structure.

A firm basis has been created for promoting economic interaction within the SCO. It is necessary to work hard to put the existing plans into practice and implement concrete measures intended to ensure food, transport and energy security, develop remote and rural territories, strengthen inter-regional ties, carry out digital transformation, and introduce high technologies and innovations.  It will be of use to approve, as expected, a roadmap on increasing the share of national currencies in mutual payments.

Yet another promising vector of joint work is setting up wide-ranging cooperative ties in the interests of creating the Greater Eurasian Partnership through the establishment of an open, mutually beneficial and equitable interaction with partners on our common continent, based on the norms of international law and a balance of national interests.

We are expanding humanitarian exchanges, including in education, science, culture, healthcare, the fight against epidemics, tourism, and human contacts, including contacts between young people.

A vast legal and contractual infrastructure, a huge human and resource potential, multilevel practical mechanisms and the accumulated rich experience of multifaceted cooperation remain a guarantee of the SCO’s further strengthening. Amid the continuing tectonic shifts in world politics and the economy, our Organisation can and must become one of the core elements of a new, more just and democratic polycentric world order based on the UN Charter, the principles of sovereign equality of all states, non-interference in internal affairs, and equal and indivisible security.

Russia has come up with an initiative to modernise the SCO and adapt it to the present-day geopolitical realities.  I am confident that the leaders of our countries will map out the priorities and measures to achieve the said goals at the upcoming September SCO Summit in Samarkand, which will be the culmination of Uzbekistan’s successful chairmanship.

In conclusion, I would like to wish you interesting and informative discussions and all the best.

The Eurasian Economic Union Steps Up

May 28, 2022

The Eurasian Economic Forum has shown once again that this high-speed – economic integration – train has already left the station.

By Pepe Escobar, posted with the author’s permission and widely cross-posted. 

The first Eurasian Economic Forum, in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, took place this week at a very sensitive geopolitical juncture, as Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov keeps stressing that, “the West has declared total war against us, against the entire Russian world. Nobody even hides this now.”

It’s always important to remember that before Maidan in 2014, Ukraine had the option to become a full member of the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU), and even balance it with a loose association with the EU.

The EAEU comprises five full members – Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Belarus and Armenia – yet 14 nations sent delegations to the forum, including China, Vietnam and Latin American nations.

There was much rumbling that the proceedings would be jeopardized by the serial sanctions packages imposed on Russia by the collective West. There’s no question that some EAEU members – such as Kazakhstan – seem to be more worried about the effects of the sanctions than about fine-tuning business with Russia. Yet that’s not the point.

The crucial point is that by 2025 they have to harmonize their legislation concerning financial markets. And that’s directly connected to what the executive body of the EAEU, led by Sergey Glazyev, is working on, extensively: designing the lineaments of an alternative financial/economic system  to what the West would rather coin as Bretton Woods 3.

The Eurasian Economic Forum was established by the Supreme Eurasian Economic Council explicitly to further deepen economic cooperation between EAEU members. No wonder the official theme of the forum was Eurasian Economic Integration in the Era of Global Shifts: New Investment Opportunities, focusing on strategic development in the industrial, energy, transport, financial, and digital areas.

So Many Converging Strategies

President Putin’s speech to the plenary session was quite revealing. To really appreciate the scope of what’s implied, it’s important to remember that the Greater Eurasian Partnership concept was presented by Putin in 2016 at the St. Petersburg Economic Forum, focused on a “more extensive Eurasian partnership involving the Eurasian Economic Union” and including China, Pakistan, Iran and India.

Putin stressed how the drive for developing ties “within the framework of the Greater Eurasian Partnership” (…) “was not the political situation but global economic trends, because the centre of economic development is gradually – we are aware of this, and our businesspeople are aware of this – is gradually moving, continues to move into the Asia-Pacific Region.”

He added, “in the current international conditions when, unfortunately, traditional trade and economic links and supply chains are being disrupted”, the Greater Eurasian Partnership “is gaining a special meaning.”

Putin established a direct connection not only between the Greater Eurasian Partnership and EAEU members but also “BRICS members such as China and India”, “the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, ASEAN and other organizations.”

And that’s the core of the whole, ongoing, multi-layered process of Eurasia integration, with the China-led New Silk Roads intersecting with the Eurasia Economic Union, the SCO, BRICS+, and other converging strategies.

Lavrov this week said that Argentina and Saudi Arabia want to join BRICS, whose next summer in China is being meticulously prepared. Not only that: Lavrov mentioned how quite a few Arab nations want to join the SCO. He was careful to describe this process of converging alliances as “not antagonistic”.

Putin for his part was careful to define the Greater Eurasian Partnership as “a big civilizational project. The main idea is to create a common space for equitable cooperation for regional organizations”, changing “the political and economic architecture on the entire continent.”

Thus, the necessity to “draft a comprehensive strategy for developing large-scale Eurasian partnership”, including “a roadmap for industrialization”. That translates in practice as developing “engineering centers and research centers. This is inevitable for any country that wants to increase its economic, financial, and ultimately political sovereignty. It is inevitable.”

Yaroslav Lissovolik  at the Valdai Club is one of the top analysts tracking how this convergence may profit the whole Global South. He stresses that among the “variability and diversity in the platforms that may be launched by Global South economies, the most sizeable and comprehensive of which could include the aggregation of CELAC (Latin America), African Union (Africa)”, and the SCO in Eurasia.

And an even more diverse set of “regional blocs that targets deeper integration could feature a BRICS+ platform that comprises the South African Development Community (SADC), MERCOSUR, BIMSTEC”, the China-ASEAN free trade agreement, and the EAEU.

The Eurasian Economic Forum has shown once again that this high-speed – economic integration – train has already left the station. It’s quite enlightening to notice the sharp contrast with the endless doom and gloom afflicting a collective West prone to inflation, energy shortages, food shortages, fictional “narratives” and the defense of neo-Nazis under the banner of liberal “democracy”.

Vladimir Putin addressed the plenary session of the 1st Eurasian Economic Forum

May 26, 2022

First Eurasian Economic Forum

Also attending the meeting were Prime Minister of Armenia Nikol Pashinyan, President of Kazakhstan Kassym-Zhomart Tokayev, President of Kyrgyzstan Sadyr Japarov, Prime Minister of Belarus Roman Golovchenko, and Chairman of the Board of the Eurasian Economic Commission Mikhail Myasnikovich. The forum moderator was Alexander Shokhin, President of the Russian Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs, member of the Presidium of the EAEU Business Council.

The purpose of the Eurasian Economic Forum, established by a decision of the Supreme Eurasian Economic Council and timed to coincide with a meeting of the SEEC, is to further deepen economic cooperation between the EAEU member states.

The EEF 2022 in Bishkek, themed Eurasian Economic Integration in the Era of Global Shifts: New Investment Opportunities, will focus on promising areas for the strategic development of integration. The participants will discuss ways to deepen industrial, energy, transport, financial, and digital cooperation.

* * *

Address at the plenary session of the 1st Eurasian Economic Forum.

President of Russia Vladimir Putin: I am grateful for this opportunity to address you, to speak on the issues which you [Alexander Shokhin] have raised and which, as you suggested, should be addressed in greater detail.

First of all, I would like to thank President of Kyrgyzstan Sadyr Japarov and his team for organising this event. I can see many people in the audience, including businesspeople and government officials. I am sure that the media will take a keen interest in the forum.

This is what I would like to begin with when answering your question. The development of Eurasian integration has no connection whatsoever to current developments or market conditions. We established this organisation many years ago. In fact, we established it at the initiative of the First President of Kazakhstan [Nursultan Nazarbayev].

I remember very well the main conversation we had on that issue, on that subject, when he said, “You must choose what is more important to you: working more actively and more closely with your direct neighbours and natural partners, or prioritising, for example, admission to the World Trade Organisation.” It was in this connection that we had to make decisions.

And although we were interested in joining the WTO and in developing relations accordingly with our Western partners, as you said and as I continue to say, we nevertheless regarded as our main priority the development of relations with our direct and natural neighbours within the common economic framework of the Soviet Union. This is my first point.

The second. Already at that time, we started developing ties – I will speak about this later – within the framework of the Greater Eurasian Partnership. Our motivation was not the political situation but global economic trends, because the centre of economic development is gradually – we are aware of this, and our businesspeople are aware of this – is gradually moving, continues to move into the Asia-Pacific Region.

Of course, we understand the tremendous advantages of high technology in advanced economies. This is obvious. We are not going to shut ourselves off from it. There are attempts to oust us from this area a little but this is simply unrealistic in the modern world. It is impossible. If we do not separate ourselves by putting up a wall, nobody will be able to isolate such a country as Russia.

Speaking not only about Russia, but also about our partners in the EAEU and the world in general, this task is completely unfeasible. Moreover, those who are trying to fulfil it harm themselves the most. No matter how sustainable the economies of the countries pursuing this shortsighted policy are, the current state of the global economy shows that our position is right and justified, even in terms of macroeconomic indicators.

These advanced economies have not had such inflation for the past 40 years; unemployment is growing, logistics chains are breaking and global crises are growing in such sensitive areas as food. This is no joke. It is a serious factor affecting the entire system of economic and political relations.

Meanwhile, these sanctions and bans are aimed at constraining and weakening the countries that are pursuing an independent policy, and they ate not limited to Russia or even China. I do not doubt for a second that there are many countries that want to and will pursue an independent policy and their number is growing. No world policeman will be able to stop this global process. There will not be enough power for this and the desire to do so will evaporate due to a host of domestic problems in those countries. I hope they will eventually realise that this policy has no prospects whatsoever.

Violating rules and norms in international finances and trade is counterproductive. In simple words, it will only lead to problems for those who are doing it. Theft of foreign assets has never done any good to anyone, primarily those who are engaged in these unseemly deeds. As it has transpired now, neglect for the political and security interests of other countries leads to chaos and economic upheavals with global repercussions.

Western countries are sure that any persona non grata who has their own point of view and is ready to defend it can be deleted from the world economy, politics, culture and sports. In fact, this is nonsense, and, as I said, it is impossible to make this happen.

We can see it. Mr Shokhin, as a representative of our business, you certainly face problems, especially in the field of supply chains and transport, but nevertheless, everything can be adjusted, everything can be built in a new way. Not without losses at a certain stage, but it leads to the fact that we really become stronger in some ways. In any case, we are definitely acquiring new skills and are starting to focus our economic, financial, and administrative resources on breakthrough areas.

True, not all the import substitution goals were achieved in previous years. But it is impossible to achieve everything: life is faster than administrative decisions, it develops faster. But there is no problem. We have done everything necessary in key areas that ensure our sovereignty.

Let us move on. After all, import substitution is not a pill for every ill, and we are not going to deal exclusively with import substitution. We are just going to develop. But we will continue to arrange import substitution in those areas where we are forced to do so. Yes, maybe with some mixed results, but definitely we will only become stronger thanks to this, especially in the field of high technologies.

Look, after the CoCom lists – I have already spoken about this many times – after what you said about our work, for instance, within the same former G8 and so on, restrictions still remained. In the most sensitive areas, everything was still closed. In fact, fundamentally – I want to emphasise this – nothing has changed fundamentally.

These issues related to large-block assemblies and so on, it took so much effort to increase localisation within the country, in our economy, in the real sectors of the economy, in industry. And even then we did not agree on key issues in many respects.

Actually, import substitution was necessary

to create not just assembly shops, but also engineering centres and research centres. This is inevitable for any country that wants to increase its economic, financial and ultimately political sovereignty. It is inevitable.

This is why we have been doing it, and not because the current state of affairs demands it from us, but simply because life itself demanded this, and we were active.

And, of course, we will work actively within the framework of the Eurasian Economic Union and within the CIS in general, we will work with the regions of Asia, Latin America and Africa. But I assure you, and you can see it yourselves, many of our companies from Europe, our partners from Europe, have announced that they are leaving. You know, sometimes when we look at those who are leaving, we ask ourselves: isn’t it a good thing that they have left? We will take up their niches: our business and our production – they have matured, and they will safely take root on the ground that our partners have prepared. Nothing will change.

And those who want to bring in some luxury goods, they will be able to do so. Well, it will be a little more expensive for them, but these are people who are already driving Mercedes S 600, and will continue to do so. I assure you, they will bring them from anywhere, from any country. That is not what is important for us. What is important for the country, for its development – I have already said this and I will repeat it – are the engineering centres and research centres that are the basis of our own development. This is what we must think about and what we must work on both within the EAEU and in a broad sense with our partners – those who want to cooperate with us.

We have a very good base that we inherited from the old days, we only need to support it and to invest resources there. As for those areas, in which we did not invest appropriate resources before, including, say, administrative resources, relying on the fact that everything can be bought by selling oil and gas, life itself has now forced us to invest there.

And thank God that this has happened. I do not see any problem here with the fact that we have not completed something in the field of import substitution. We will not do it just because the current economic situation forces us to do so, but only because it is in the interests of our country.

The Eurasian Economic Union has developed a roadmap for industrialisation, with over 180 projects with a total investment of over $300 billion. A programme for agricultural development has been prepared, including more than 170 projects worth $16 billion.

Russia has something to offer here, and businesspeople are well aware of this. We have grown to be highly competitive at the global level, in the global markets. Russia remains – if we speak about agriculture – the largest exporter of wheat, number one in the world. Until recently, we were buying it – now we are selling it, number one in the world. True, countries such as the United States or China produce even more, but they also consume more. But Russia has become number one in international trade.

Our high-tech industries are growing successfully, too. And we would like to continue growing together with our EAEU partners. We can and should restore our collaborative competencies.

I have discussed this with my colleagues, with the President of Kazakhstan and the Prime Minister of Armenia – not because some of Russia’s IT workers have moved to Armenia, not at all. They are free to relocate and work anywhere, and God bless them. But again, it is a certain challenge for us: it means we must create better conditions.

We have opportunities to work with the Republic of Belarus in a number of areas of cooperation, and we will definitely do this, because the Republic of Belarus has retained certain expertise that is very important for us, including in microelectronics. President Lukashenko and I just met in Sochi and talked about it, and even agreed to set aside funding for those projects in Belarus. The products that these enterprises, these industries will make will enjoy demand in Russia. This is a very interesting and promising area.

The EAEU countries have laid the foundation for a common digital landscape, including a unified products traceability system. Various platform solutions are being developed, for example, the Work without Borders search system. The project is very important for all our countries. Despite all the crises and challenges caused by the current political situation, labour migrants continue to send almost as much money home from Russia as before. Moreover, some countries are receiving even more money now, as my colleagues from the CIS have told me.

The practice of payments in national currencies is expanding, which is very important. Notably, their share in the mutual trade of the Union’s countries has already reached 75 percent. We will continue to work on interlinking our national payment systems and bank cards.

We believe it is important to expedite the dialogue on internal international financial and payment mechanisms, such as transitioning from SWIFT to direct correspondent contacts between the banks of the friendly countries, including through the Russian Central Bank’s financial messaging system. We also propose strengthening cooperation with key lending and financial centres in the Asia-Pacific Region.

New topics related to Eurasian integration include developing cooperation in green technology, environmental protection and energy saving. We expect to receive support and proactive suggestions from the business community.

Colleagues,

In the current international conditions when, unfortunately, traditional trade and economic links and supply chains are being disrupted, Russia’s initiative to form a Greater Eurasian Partnership– an initiative we have been discussing for many years – is gaining a special meaning.

We are thankful to the leaders of the EAEU countries for supporting this proposal from the very beginning. BRICS members such as China and India as well as several other countries also supported creating a Greater Eurasian Partnership. The Shanghai Cooperation Organisation, ASEAN and other organisations have shown interest in this initiative.

Here, I would like to mention several specific ideas pertaining to the comprehensive development of the Greater Eurasian Partnership.

First, it is reasonable to develop shared institutions for specific growth points, including creating a Eurasian export centre and trade houses, expediting the establishment of a Eurasian reinsurance company, examining the issue of developing special trans-border economic zones, probably even with supranational authority.

The second point. It is important to step up the EAEU’s cooperation with foreign partners and inform them about the benefits and advantages of working with the EAEU and of our key projects and plans. My colleagues know that interest in our association is growing. In this context, the EAEU Business Council could play a significant role. It is already successfully developing ties beyond our union. Its business dialogue system may become an example for a potential business cooperation platform in Greater Eurasia.

That said, as I have already noted, it would be desirable to support the freedom of business initiative, the creative activity of business, of our investors. I suggest creating additional, better incentives for this purpose and investing more in Eurasian projects. Naturally, the companies representing national businesses of the EAEU countries must receive priority support.

My third point. It is time to draft a comprehensive strategy for developing large-scale Eurasian partnership. It must reflect the key international challenges facing us, determine future goals and contain instruments and mechanisms for achieving them. We must consider further steps in developing our system of trade and investment agreements, in part, with the participation of the SCO, ASEAN and BRICS member countries.

In fact, we may draft new agreements that will develop and supplement WTO rules. In this context, it is important to pay attention not only to tariffs but also to the removal of non-tariff barriers. This may produce considerable results without subjecting our national economies to risks.

In conclusion, I would like to say the following. It would be no exaggeration to say that Greater Eurasia is a big civilisational project. The main idea is to create a common space for equitable cooperation for regional organisations. The Greater Eurasian Partnership is designed to change the political and economic architecture and guarantee stability and prosperity on the entire continent – naturally, taking account of the diverse development models, cultures and traditions of all nations. I am confident, and this is obvious anyway, that this centre would attract a big audience.

I would like to wish success and productive cooperation to all participants of the Eurasian Economic Forum.

Thank you for your attention. Thank you.

Sergey Karaganov: Russia’s new foreign policy, the Putin Doctrine

23 Feb, 2022

Moscow’s confrontation with NATO is just the start

By Professor Sergey Karaganov, honorary chairman of Russia’s Council on Foreign and Defense Policy, and academic supervisor at the School of International Economics and Foreign Affairs Higher School of Economics (HSE) in Moscow

Sergey Karaganov: Russia’s new foreign policy, the Putin Doctrine
Russian President Vladimir Putin speaks during his address to the nation at the Kremlin in Moscow on February 21, 2022. © AFP / Alexey NIKOLSKY

It seems like Russia has entered a new era of its foreign policy – a ‘constructive destruction’, let’s call it, of the previous model of relations with the West. Parts of this new way of thinking have been seen over the last 15 years – starting with Vladimir Putin’s famous Munich speech in 2007 – but much is only just becoming clear now. At the same time, lackluster efforts to integrate into the western system, while maintaining a doggedly defensive attitude, has remained the general trend in Russia’s politics and rhetoric.

Constructive destruction is not aggressive. Russia maintains it isn’t going to attack anyone or blow them up. It simply doesn’t need to. The outside world provides Russia with more and more geopolitical opportunities for medium-term development as it is. With one big exception. NATO’s expansion and formal or informal inclusion of Ukraine poses a risk to the country’s security that Moscow simply won’t accept.

For now, the West is on course to a slow but inevitable decay, both in terms of internal and external affairs and even the economy. And this is precisely why it has started this new Cold War after almost five hundred years of domination in world politics, the economy, and culture. Especially after its decisive victory in the 1990s to mid-2000s. I believe [1] it will most likely lose, stepping down as the global leader and becoming a more reasonable partner. And not a moment too soon: Russia will need to balance relations with a friendly, but increasingly more powerful China.

Presently, the West desperately tries to defend against this with aggressive rhetoric. It tries to consolidate, playing its last trump cards to reverse this trend. One of those is trying to use Ukraine to damage and neuter Russia. It’s important to prevent these convulsive attempts from transforming into a full-fledged standoff and to counter the current US and NATO policies. They are counterproductive and dangerous, though relatively undemanding for the initiators. We are yet to convince the West that it is only hurting itself.

Another trump card is the West’s dominating role in the existing Euro-Atlantic security system established at a time when Russia was seriously weakened following the Cold War. There’s merit in gradually erasing this system, primarily by refusing to take part in it and play by its obsolete rules, which are inherently disadvantageous to us. For Russia, the western track should become secondary to its Eurasian diplomacy. Maintaining constructive relations with the countries in the western part of the continent may ease the integration into Greater Eurasia for Russia. The old system is in the way, though, and so it should be dismantled.

The critical next step to creating a new system (aside from dismantling the old one) is ‘uniting the lands’. It’s a necessity for Moscow, not a whim. 

It would be nice if we had more time to do this. But history shows that, since the collapse of the USSR 30 years ago, few post-Soviet nations have managed to become truly independent. And some may never even get there, for various reasons. This is a subject for a future analysis. Right now, I can only point out the obvious: Most local elites don’t have the historical or cultural experience of state-building. They’ve never been able to become the core of the nation – they didn’t have enough time for this. When the shared intellectual and cultural space disappeared, it hurt small countries the most. The new opportunities to build ties with the West turned out to be no replacement. Those who have found themselves at the helm of such nations have been selling their country for their own benefit, because there’s been no national idea to fight for.

The majority of those countries will either follow the example of the Baltic states, accepting external control, or continue to spiral out of control, which in some cases may be extremely dangerous.

The question is: How to ‘unite’ the nations in the most efficient and beneficial way for Russia, taking into account the tsarist and Soviet experience, when the sphere of influence was extended beyond any reasonable limits and then kept together at the expense of core Russian peoples?

Let’s leave the discussion about the ‘unification’ that history is forcing on us for another day. This time, let’s focus on the objective need to make a tough decision and adopt the ‘constructive destruction’ policy.

The milestones we passed

Today, we see the inception of the fourth era of Russia’s foreign policy. The first one started in the late 1980s, and it was a time of weakness and delusions. The nation had lost the will to fight, people wanted to believe democracy and the West would come and save them [2]. It all ended in 1999 after the first waves of NATO expansion, seen by Russians as a backstabbing move, when the West tore apart what was left of Yugoslavia.

Then Russia started to get up off its knees and rebuild, stealthily and covertly, while appearing friendly and humbled. The US withdrawing from the ABM Treaty signaled its intention to regain its strategic dominance, so the still broke Russia made a fateful decision to develop weapon systems to challenge American aspirations. The Munich speech, the Georgian War, and the army reform, conducted amid a global economic crisis that spelled the end of the western liberal globalist imperialism (the term coined by a prominent expert on international affairs, Richard Sakwa) marked the new goal for Russian foreign policy – to once again become a leading global power that can defend its sovereignty and interests. This was followed by the events in Crimea, Syria, the military build-up, and blocking the West from interfering in Russia’s domestic affairs, rooting out from the public service those who partnered with the West to the disadvantage of their homeland, including by a masterful use of the West’s reaction to those developments. As the tensions keep growing, looking up to the West and keeping assets there becomes increasingly less lucrative.

China’s incredible rise and becoming de-facto allies with Beijing starting in the 2010s, the pivot to the East, and the multidimensional crisis that enveloped the West led to a great shift in political and geoeconomic balance in favor of Russia. This is especially pronounced in Europe. Only a decade ago, the EU saw Russia as a backward and weak outskirts of the continent trying to contend with major powers. Now, it is desperately trying to cling to the geopolitical and geoeconomic independence that is slipping through its fingers.

The ‘back to greatness’ period ended around 2017 to 2018. After that, Russia hit a plateau. The modernization continued, but the weak economy threatened to negate its achievements. People (myself included) were frustrated, fearing that Russia once again was going to “snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.” But that turned out to be another build-up period, primarily in terms of defense capabilities.

Russia has gotten ahead, making sure that for the next decade, it will be relatively invulnerable strategically and capable of “dominating in an escalation scenario” in case of conflicts in the regions within its sphere of interests.

The ultimatum that Russia issued to the US and NATO at the end of 2021, demanding they stop developing military infrastructure near the Russian borders and expansion to the east, marked the start of the ‘constructive destruction’. The goal is not simply to stop the flagging, albeit really dangerous inertia of the West’s geostrategic push, but also to start laying the foundation for a new kind of relations between Russia and the West, different from what we settled on in the 1990s.

Russia’s military capabilities, the returning sense of moral righteousness, lessons learned from past mistakes, and a close alliance with China could mean that the West, which chose the role of an adversary, will start being reasonable, even if not all the time. Then, in a decade or sooner, I hope, a new system of international security and cooperation will be built that will include the whole Greater Eurasia this time, and it will be based on UN principles and international law, not unilateral ‘rules’ that the West has been trying to impose on the world in recent decades.

Correcting mistakes

Before I go any further, let me say that I think very highly of Russian diplomacy – it’s been absolutely brilliant in the past 25 years. Moscow was dealt a weak hand but managed to play a great game nevertheless. First, it didn’t let the West ‘finish it off’. Russia maintained its formal status of a great country, retaining permanent membership in the UN Security Council and keeping nuclear arsenals. Then it gradually improved its global standing by leveraging the weaknesses of its rivals and the strengths of its partners. Building a strong friendship with China has been a major achievement. Russia has some geopolitical advantages that the Soviet Union didn’t have. Unless, of course, it goes back to the aspirations of becoming a global superpower, which eventually ruined the USSR.  

However, we shouldn’t forget the mistakes we’ve made so we don’t repeat them. It was our laziness, weakness, and bureaucratic inertia that helped create and keep afloat the unjust and unstable system of European security that we have today.

The beautifully-worded Charter of Paris for a New Europe that was signed in 1990 had a statement about freedom of association – countries could choose their allies, something that would’ve been impossible under the 1975 Helsinki Declaration. Since the Warsaw Pact was running on fumes at that point, this clause meant that NATO would be free to expand. This is the document everyone keeps referring to, even in Russia. Back in 1990, however, NATO could at least be considered a “defense” organization. The alliance and most of its members have launched a number of aggressive military campaigns since then – against the remnants of Yugoslavia, as well as in Iraq and Libya.  

After a heart-to-heart chat with Lech Walesa in 1993, Boris Yeltsin signed a document where it stated that Russia “understood Poland’s plan to join NATO.” When Andrey Kozyrev, Russia’s foreign minister at the time, learned about NATO’s expansion plans in 1994, he began a bargaining process on Russia’s behalf without consulting the president. The other side took it as a sign that Russia was OK with the general concept, since it was trying to negotiate acceptable terms. In 1995, Moscow stepped on the brakes, but it was too late – the dam burst and swept away any reservations about the West’s expansion efforts. 

In 1997, Russia, being economically weak and completely dependent on the West, signed the Founding Act on Mutual Relations, Cooperation and Security with NATO. Moscow was able to compel certain concessions from the West, like the pledge not to deploy large military units to the new member states. NATO has been consistently violating this obligation. Another agreement was to keep these territories free of nuclear weapons. The US would not have wanted it anyway, because it had been trying to distance itself from a potential nuclear conflict in Europe as much as possible (despite their allies’ wishes), since it would undoubtedly cause a nuclear strike against America. In reality, the document legitimized NATO’s expansion.  

There were other mistakes – not as major but extremely painful nevertheless. Russia participated in the Partnership for Peace program, the sole purpose of which was to make it look like NATO was prepared to listen to Moscow, but in reality, the alliance was using the project to justify its existence and further expansion. Another frustrating misstep was our involvement in the NATO-Russia Council after the Yugoslavia aggression. The topics discussed at that level desperately lacked substance. They should’ve focused on the truly significant issue – restraining the alliance’s expansion and the buildup of its military infrastructure near the Russian borders. Sadly, this never made it to the agenda. The Council continued to operate even after the majority of NATO members started a war in Iraq and then Libya in 2011.  

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It is very unfortunate that we never got the nerve to openly say it – NATO had become an aggressor that committed numerous war crimes. This would’ve been a sobering truth for various political circles in Europe, like in Finland and Sweden for example, where some are considering the advantages of joining the organization. And all the others for that matter, with their mantra about NATO being a defense and deterrence alliance that needs to be further consolidated so it can stand against imaginary enemies. 

I understand those in the West who are used to the existing system that allows the Americans to buy the obedience of their junior partners, and not just in terms of military support, while these allies can save on security expenses by selling part of their sovereignty. But what do we gain from this system? Especially now that it’s become obvious that it breeds and escalates confrontation at our western borders and in the whole world. 

NATO feeds off forced confrontation, and the longer the organization exists, the worse this confrontation will be. 

The bloc is a threat to its members as well. While provoking confrontation, it doesn’t actually guarantee protection. It is not true that Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty warrants collective defense if one ally is attacked. This article doesn’t say that this is automatically guaranteed. I am familiar with the history of the bloc and the discussions in America regarding its establishment. I know for a fact that the US will never deploy nuclear weapons to “protect” its allies if there is conflict with a nuclear state. 

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) is also outdated. It is dominated by NATO and the EU that use the organization to drag out the confrontation and impose the West’s political values and standards on everyone else. Fortunately, this policy is becoming less and less effective. In the mid-2010s I had the chance to work with the OSCE Panel of Eminent Persons (what a name!), which was supposed to develop a new mandate for the organization. And if I had my doubts about the OSCE’s effectiveness before that, this experience convinced me that it is an extremely destructive institution. It’s an antiquated organization with a mission to preserve things that are obsolete. In the 1990s, it served as an instrument of burying any attempt made by Russia or others to create a common European security system; in the 2000s, the so-called Corfu Process bogged down Russia’s new security initiative.

Practically all UN institutions have been squeezed out of the continent, including the UN Economic Commission for Europe, its Human Rights Council and Security Council. Once upon a time, the OSCE was viewed as a useful organization that would promote the UN system and principles in a key subcontinent. That didn’t happen. 

As for NATO, it is very clear what we should do. We need to undermine the bloc’s moral and political legitimacy and refuse any institutional partnership, since its counterproductivity is obvious. Only the military should continue to communicate, but as an auxiliary channel that would supplement dialogue with the DOD and defense ministries of leading European nations. After all, it’s not Brussels that makes strategically important decisions. 

The same policy could be adopted when it comes to the OSCE. Yes, there is a difference, because even though this is a destructive organization, it never initiated any wars, destabilization, or killings. So we need to keep our involvement in this format to a minimum. Some say that this is the only context that provides the Russian foreign minister with a chance to see his counterparts. That is not true. The UN can offer an even better context. Bilateral talks are much more effective anyway, because it is easier for the bloc to hijack the agenda when there is a crowd. Sending observers and peacekeepers through the UN would also make a lot more sense.  

The limited article format does not allow me to dwell on specific policies for each European organization, like the Council of Europe for example. But I would define the general principle this way – we partner where we see benefits for ourselves and keep our distance otherwise. 

Thirty years under the current system of European institutions proved that continuing with it would be detrimental. Russia doesn’t benefit in any way from Europe’s disposition towards breeding and escalating confrontation or even posing military threat to the subcontinent and the whole world. Back in the day, we could dream that Europe would help us bolster security, as well as political and economic modernization. Instead, they are undermining security, so why would we copy the West’s dysfunctional and deteriorating political system? Do we really need these new values that they have adopted? 

We will have to limit the expansion by refusing to cooperate within an eroding system. Hopefully, by taking a firm stand and leaving our civilization neighbors from the West to their own devices, we will actually help them. The elites may return to a less suicidal policy that would be safer for everyone. Of course, we have to be smart about taking ourselves out of the equation and make sure to minimize the collateral damage that the failing system will inevitably cause. But maintaining it in its current form is simply dangerous. 

Policies for tomorrow’s Russia

As the existing global order continues to crumble, it seems that the most prudent course for Russia would be to sit it out for as long as possible – to take cover within the walls of its ‘neo-isolationist fortress’ and deal with domestic matters. But this time, history demands that we take action. Many of my suggestions with respect to the foreign policy approach I have tentatively called ‘constructive destruction’ naturally emerge from the analysis presented above.

There is no need to interfere or to try to influence the internal dynamics of the West, whose elites are desperate enough to start a new cold war against Russia. What we should do instead is use various foreign policy instruments – including military ones – to establish certain red lines. Meanwhile, as the Western system continues to steer towards moral, political, and economic degradation, non-Western powers (with Russia as a major player) will inevitably see their geo-political, geo-economic and geo-ideological positions strengthen. 

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Our Western partners predictably try to squelch Russia’s calls for security guarantees and take advantage of the ongoing diplomatic process in order to extend the lifespan of their own institutions. There is no need to give up dialogue or cooperation in matters of trade, politics, culture, education, and healthcare, whenever it’s useful. But we must also use the time we’ve got to ramp up military-political, psychological, and even military-technical pressure – not so much on Ukraine, whose people have been turned into cannon fodder for a new Cold War – but on the collective West, in order to force it to change its mind and step back from the policies it has pursued for the past several decades. There is nothing to fear about the confrontation escalating: We saw tensions grow even as Russia was trying to appease the Western world. What we should do is prepare for a stronger pushback from the West; also, Russia should be able to offer the world a long-term alternative – a new political framework based on peace and cooperation.

The West can try to intimidate us with devastating sanctions – but we are also capable of deterring the West with our own threat of an asymmetrical response, one that would cripple Western economies and disrupt whole societies.

Naturally, it is useful to remind our partners, from time to time, that there exists a mutually beneficial alternative to all that.

If Russia carries out reasonable but assertive policies (domestically, too), it will successfully (and relatively peacefully) overcome the latest surge of Western hostility. As I have written before, we stand a good chance of winning this Cold War.

What also inspires optimism is Russia’s own past record: We have more than once managed to tame the imperial ambitions of foreign powers – for our own good, and for the good of humanity, as a whole. Russia was able to transform would-be empires into tame and relatively harmless neighbors: Sweden after the Battle of Poltava, France after Borodino, Germany after Stalingrad and Berlin.

We can find a slogan for the new Russian policy toward the West in a verse from Alexander Blok’s ‘The Scythians’, a brilliant poem that seems especially relevant today: “Come join us, then! Leave war and war’s alarms, / And grasp the hand of peace and amity. / While still there’s time, Comrades, lay down your arms! / Let us unite in true fraternity!”

While attempting to heal our relations with the West (even if that requires some bitter medicine), we must remember that, while culturally close to us, the Western world is running out of time – in fact, it has been for two decades now. It is essentially in damage control mode, seeking cooperation whenever possible. The real prospects and challenges of our present and future lie with the East and the South. Taking a harder line with Western nations must not distract Russia from maintaining its pivot to the East. And we have seen this pivot slow down in the past two or three years, especially when it comes to developing territories beyond the Ural Mountains.

We must not allow Ukraine to become a security threat to Russia. That said, it would be counterproductive to spend too many administrative and political (not to mention economic) resources on it. Russia must learn to actively manage this volatile situation, keep it within limits. Most of Ukraine has been neutered by its own anti-national elite, corrupted by the West, and infected with the pathogen of militant nationalism.

It would be much more effective to invest in the East, in the development of Siberia. By creating favorable working and living conditions, we will attract not only Russian citizens, but also people from the other parts of the former Russian Empire, including the Ukrainians. The latter have, historically, contributed a great deal to the development of Siberia.

Let me reiterate a point from my other articles: It was the incorporation of Siberia under Ivan the Terrible that made Russia a great power, not the accession of Ukraine under Aleksey Mikhaylovich, known under the moniker ‘the most peaceful’. It is high time we stopped repeating Zbigniew Brzezinski’s disingenuous – and so strikingly Polish – assertion that Russia cannot be a great power without Ukraine. The opposite is much closer to the truth: Russia cannot be a great power when it is burdened by an increasingly unwieldy Ukraine – a political entity created by Lenin which later expanded westward under Stalin.

The most promising path for Russia lies with the development and strengthening of ties with China. A partnership with Beijing would multiply the potential of both countries many times over. If the West carries on with its bitterly hostile policies, it wouldn’t be unreasonable to consider a temporary five-year defense alliance with China. Naturally, one should also be careful not to get ‘dizzy with success’ on the China track, so as not to return to the medieval model of China’s Middle Kingdom, which grew by turning its neighbors into vassals. We should help Beijing wherever we can to keep it from suffering even a momentary defeat in the new Cold War unleashed by the West. That defeat would weaken us, too. Besides, we know all too well what the West transforms into when it thinks it is winning. It took some harsh remedies to treat America’s hangover after it got drunk with power in the 1990s.

Clearly, an East-oriented policy must not focus solely on China. Both the East and the South are on the rise in global politics, economics, and culture, which is partly due to our undermining of the West’s military superiority – the primary source of its 500-year hegemony.

When the time comes to establish a new system of European security to replace the dangerously outdated existing one, it must be done within the framework of a greater Eurasian project. Nothing worthwhile can be born out of the old Euro-Atlantic system.

It is self-evident that success requires the development and modernization of the country’s economic, technological, and scientific potential – all pillars of a country’s military power, which remains the backbone of any nation’s sovereignty and security. Russia cannot be successful without improving the quality of life for the majority of its people: This includes overall prosperity, healthcare, education, and the environment. 

The restriction of political freedoms, which is inevitable when confronting the collective West, must by no means extend to the intellectual sphere. This is difficult, but achievable. For the talented, creatively-minded part of the population who are ready to serve their country, we must preserve as much intellectual freedom as possible. Scientific development through Soviet-style ‘sharashkas’ (research and development laboratories operating within the Soviet labor camp system) is not something that would work in the modern world. Freedom enhances the talents of Russian people, and inventiveness runs in our blood. Even in foreign policy, the freedom from ideological constraints that we enjoy offers us massive advantages compared to our more close-minded neighbors. History teaches us that the brutal restriction of freedom of thought imposed by the Communist regime on its people led the Soviet Union to ruin. Preserving personal freedom is an essential condition for any nation’s development.

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If we want to grow as a society and be victorious, it is absolutely vital that we develop a spiritual backbone – a national idea, an ideology that unites and shines the way forward. It is a fundamental truth that great nations cannot be truly great without such an idea at their core. This is part of the tragedy that happened to us in the 1970s and 1980s. Hopefully, the resistance of the ruling elites to the advancement of a new ideology, rooted in the pains of the communist era, is beginning to fade. Vladimir Putin’s speech at the October 2021 annual meeting of the Valdai Discussion Club was a powerful reassuring signal in that respect.

Like the ever-growing number of Russian philosophers and authors, I have put forward my own vision of the ‘Russian idea’[3]. (I apologize for having to reference my own publications again – it is an inevitable side effect of having to stick to the format).

Questions for the future

And now let’s discuss a significant, yet mostly overlooked aspect of the new policy that needs to be addressed. We need to dismiss and reform the obsolete and often harmful ideological foundation of our social sciences and public life for this new policy to get implemented, let alone succeed.

This doesn’t mean we have to reject once again the advancements in political science, economy, and foreign affairs of our predecessors. The Bolsheviks tried to dump the social ideas of tsarist Russia – everybody knows how this played out. We rejected Marxism and were happy about it. Now, fed up with other tenets, we realize we were too impatient with it. Marx, Engels, and Lenin had sound ideas in their theory of imperialism we could use.

Social sciences that study the ways of public and private life have to take into account national context, however inclusive it wants to appear. It stems from the national history and ultimately is aimed to help the nations and/or their government and elites. The mindless application of solutions valid in one country to another are fruitless and only create abominations.

We need to start working towards intellectual independence after we achieve military security and political and economic sovereignty. In the new world, it’s compulsory to achieve development and exert influence. Mikhail Remizov, a prominent Russian political scientist, was the first, as far as I know, to call this ‘intellectual decolonization’.

Having spent decades in the shadow of imported Marxism, we’ve begun a transition to yet another foreign ideology of liberal democracy in economics and political science and, to certain extent, even in foreign policy and defense. This fascination has done us no good – we’ve lost land, technology, and people. In the mid-2000s, we started to exercise our sovereignty, but had to rely on our instincts rather than clear national (again – it cannot be anything else) scientific and ideological principles.

We still don’t have the courage to acknowledge that the scientific and ideological worldview we’ve had for the last forty to fifty years is obsolete and/or was intended to serve foreign elites.

To illustrate this point, here are a few randomly picked questions from my very long list.

I’ll start with existential issues, purely philosophical ones. What comes first in humans, the spirit or the matter? And in the more mundane political sense – what drives people and states in the modern world? To common Marxists and liberals, the answer is the economy. Just remember that until recently Bill Clinton’s famous “It’s the economy, stupid” was thought to be an axiom. But people seek something greater when the basic need for food is satisfied. Love for their family, their homeland, desire for national dignity, personal freedoms, power, and fame. The hierarchy of needs has been well known to us since Maslow introduced it in the 1940–50s in his famous pyramid. Modern capitalism, however, twisted it, forcing ever-expanding consumption via traditional media at first and all-encompassing digital networks later – for rich and poor, each according to their ability.

What can we do when the modern capitalism deprived of moral or religious foundations incites limitless consumption, breaking down moral and geographic boundaries and comes into conflict with nature, threatening the very existence of our species? We, Russians, understand better than anybody that attempts to get rid of entrepreneurs and capitalists who are driven by the desire to build wealth will have disastrous consequences for society and the environment (the socialist economy model wasn’t exactly environmentally friendly).

What do we do with the latest values of rejecting history, your homeland, gender, and beliefs, as well as aggressive LGBT and ultra-feminist movements? I respect the right to follow them, but I think they’re post-humanist. Should we treat this as just another stage of social evolution? I don’t think so. Should we try to ward it off, limit its spread, and wait till society lives through this moral epidemic? Or should we actively fight it, leading the majority of humanity that adheres to so-called “conservative” values or, to put it simply, normal human values? Should we get into the fight escalating an already dangerous confrontation with the Western elites?

The technological development and increased labor productivity have helped feed the majority of people, but the world itself has slipped into anarchy, and many guiding principles have been lost at the global level. Security concerns, perhaps, are prevailing over the economy once again. Military instruments and the political will might take the lead from now on.

What is military deterrence in the modern world? Is it a threat to cause damage to national and individual assets or foreign assets and information infrastructure to which today’s Western elites are tied so closely? What will become of the Western world if this infrastructure is brought down?

And a related question: What is strategic parity we still talk about today? Is it some foreign nonsense picked by Soviet leaders who sucked their people into an exhausting arms race because of their inferiority complex and June 22, 1941 syndrome? Looks like we are already answering this question, even though we still churn out speeches about equality and symmetrical measures.

And what is this arms control many believe to be instrumental? Is it an attempt to restrain the expensive arms race beneficial to the wealthier economy, to limit the risk of hostilities or something more – a tool to legitimize the race, the development of arms, and the process of unnecessary programs on your opponent? There’s no obvious answer to that.

But let’s go back to the more existential questions.

Is democracy really the pinnacle of political development? Or is it just another tool that helps the elites control society, if we are not talking about Aristotle’s pure democracy (which also has certain limitations)? There are many tools that come and go as society and conditions change. Sometimes we abandon them only to bring them back when the time is right and there’s external and internal demand for them. I’m not calling for boundless authoritarianism or monarchy. I think we have already overdone it with centralization, especially at the municipal government level. But if this is just a tool, shouldn’t we stop pretending that we strive for democracy and put it straight – we want personal freedoms, a prosperous society, security, and national dignity? But how do we justify power to the people then?

Is the state really destined to die off, as Marxists and liberal globalists used to believe, as they dreamed of alliances between transnational corporations, international NGOs (both have been going through nationalization and privatization), and supranational political bodies? We’ll see how long the EU can survive in its current form. Note that I don’t want to say there’s no reason to join national efforts for the greater good, like bringing down expensive custom barriers or introducing joint environmental policies. Or isn’t it better to focus on developing your own state and supporting neighbors while disregarding global problems created by others? Aren’t they going to mess with us if we act this way?

What is the role of land and territories? Is it a dwindling asset, a burden as was believed among political scientists only recently? Or the greatest national treasure, especially in the face of the environmental crisis, climate change, the growing deficit of water and food in some regions and the total lack of it in others?

What should we do then with hundreds of millions of Pakistanis, Indians, Arabs, and others whose lands might soon be uninhabitable? Should we invite them now as the US and Europe began to do in the 1960s, drawing migrants to bring down the cost of local labor and undermine the trade unions? Or should we prepare to defend our territories from the outsiders? In that case, we should abandon all hope to develop democracy, as Israel’s experience with its Arab population shows.

Would developing robotics, which is currently in a sorry state, help compensate for the lack of workforce and make those territories livable again? What is the role of indigenous Russian people in our country, considering their number will inevitably keep shrinking? Given that Russians have historically been an open people, the prospects might be optimistic. But so far it’s unclear.

I can go on and on, especially when it comes to the economy. These questions need to be asked and it’s vital to find answers as soon as possible in order to grow and come out on top. Russia needs a new political economy – free from Marxist and liberal dogmas, but something more than the current pragmatism our foreign policy is based on. It must include forward-oriented idealism, a new Russian ideology incorporating our history and philosophical traditions. This echoes the ideas put forward by the academic Pavel Tsygankov.

READ MORE: Oil pushes toward $100 as Donbass tensions rise

I believe that this is the ultimate goal of all our research in foreign affairs, political science, economics and philosophy. This task is beyond difficult. We can continue contributing to our society and our country only by breaking our old thinking patterns. But to end on an optimistic note, here’s a humorous thought: Isn’t it time to recognize that the subject of our studies – foreign affairs, domestic policies, and the economy – is the result of a creative process involving masses and leaders alike? To recognize that it is, in a way, art? To a large degree, it defies explanation and stems from intuition and talent. And so we are like art experts: We talk about it, identify trends and teach the artists – the masses and the leaders – history, which is useful to them. We often get lost in the theoretical, though, coming up with ideas divorced from reality or distorting it by focusing on separate fragments.

Sometimes we do make history: think Evgeny Primakov or Henry Kissinger. But I’d argue they didn’t care what approaches to this art history they represented. They drew upon their knowledge, personal experience, moral principles, and intuition. I like the idea of us being a type of art expert, and I believe it can make the daunting task of revising the dogmas a little easier.

This article was first published online by the Russia in Global Affairs journal.

Checkmate: Iran is spearheading a geopolitical sea change in West Asia

While the west bangs on about Vienna talks, sanctions and military options, Iran has been quietly building a vast network of alternative solutions to cement its Asian ascent

Photo Credit: The Cradle

December 24 2021

By Matthew Ehret

Benjamin Franklin once famously wrote to his fellow colonials: “Either we hang together or we hang separately.”

Those words are just as true today as they were 270 years ago, for empires have always controlled by dividing their victims into regional tribal interests in order to be better conquered.

While techniques have adapted to modern times, the essential ingredients for the science of discord remain relatively unchanged: keep resources scarce, fear and ignorance high, and let a targeted population clash over diminishing returns of scarcity.

Amid this division, myopic ethnic, religious, and linguistic prejudices have fertile soil to grow to the benefit of an oligarchic elite.

Today’s Americans, sitting as they are on the precipice of a their own internal civil clashes, and economic collapse more broadly, have not heeded the advice of their own founding fathers well enough.

However, it is no small irony that Ben Franklin’s advice is being taken to heart in another part of the world far removed from the decaying republic.

The China-Russia-Iran alliance challenges rules-based disorder

Since Iran finalized its Comprehensive 25 Year Cooperation Plan with China on 27 March, a completely new geometry has arisen in Southwest Asia, which is evolving at breakneck speed.

An ancient civilization serving as the third foundational pillar supporting the Greater Eurasian Partnership, and having joined the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) on 17 September, Iran has finally emerged as a leading driver for stabilization and progress.

Alongside security agreements with Russia that have seen the two nations conducting Indian Ocean military drills in February 2021, Russia, Iran and China (RIC) have also announced that all three parties would hold joint naval drills in the Persian Gulf by the start of 2022.

Russian-Iran relations don’t end here, but a 20-year cooperation agreement – modelled on the Iran-China agreement – between the two powers is also in the final stages of negotiation.

Iranian foreign ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh stated on 11 December: “Like the 25-year cooperation roadmap we developed with China, we can do the same with major neighboring countries.”

Among the many impossibilities now becoming possible under this new system, the Iranian-led Persian Gulf-Black Sea International Transportation and Transit Corridor, which many thought was long dead, has in 2016 has come back to life with force.

This transformative corridor is an obvious synergistic component to the China-led east-west Belt and Road Initiative, and Russian-Indian led International North South Transportation Corridor, both of which are sweeping across the world island.

The Iran-Azerbaijan-Turkmenistan gas swap

At the 28 November Economic Cooperation Organization (ECO) summit in Ashgabat, the leaders of Azerbaijan, Iran and Turkmenistan overcame immense hurdles by finalizing an important gas swap deal that will involve Iran receiving two billion cubic meters of gas per year from Turkmenistan, which it will also send in equal proportions to Azerbaijan.

This agreement broke through the five-year block on gas relations between Turkmenistan and Iran, which had collapsed in 2016 due to complaints over unpaid oil from over a decade earlier. Additionally, the war which many commentators were warning might break out just a few months ago between Azerbaijan and Iran makes the agreement for renewed cooperation between the two nations that much more important.

Iranian president Raisi alluded to the foreign interests that were provoking fires during that heated period saying: “We must never allow others to interfere in our relations. We must resolve our own problems, work together to advance our relations and deepen mutually beneficial cooperation. Experience so far shows that when we discuss our issues ourselves, we manage to resolve many of them.”

The Trans-Caspian and White Stream pipelines complement the Southern Gas Corridor (Source: Trans-Caspian Pipeline)

The three nations also agreed to deepen integration and cooperation in transportation, trade, shipping, tourism and, most importantly, the development of the incredibly bountiful offshore oil and gas resources within the Caspian Sea.

While southern Iran holds the world’s second largest oil and natural gas reserves (behind Russia, who sits at #1), Turkmenistan is 4th on the list, while offshore deposits in the Caspian Sea represent some of the largest in the world.

As Pepe Escobar has observed in his recent contribution to The Cradle, the Chalous Gas fields in the Caspian not only represent the tenth largest reserves in the world with a $5.4 trillion value but, according to experts, this region alone could service 52 percent of Europe’s natural gas needs for 20 years. As of this writing, agreements have been signed, which will see this region developed by Russian, Chinese and Iranian interests.

The long overdue 300 km Trans Caspian Pipeline (TCP) crossing the Caspian has also come much closer to being realized alongside this harmonization of interests. With its completion in 2022, the TCP will connect to the Southern Gas Corridor and Turkey’s TANAP.

The final branch to Europe via the Nabucco gas pipeline will easily be completed (if political sabotage is avoided), providing Europe with abundant gas for generations. This will give both Iran and Russia a position of vast economic leverage with a mismanaged Europe now experiencing one of the worst man-made energy crises in history.

The INSTC as a game changer

The International North South Transportation Corridor (INSTC, involving Russia, Central Asia, Azerbaijan, Europe, Turkey, Iran, Afghanistan and India) is a 7,200 km multimodal transit system very much in synergy with China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).

(Source: CSIS: Reconnecting Asia)

Since the ECO summit, a plethora of agreements have been signed to accelerate this megaproject as well. While many talking heads have tried hard to paint this 20-year-old project as a Russian competitive challenge to China’s BRI, it is increasingly obvious that the two projects are entirely harmonious.

On 28 November, a three-way Iran-Kazakhstan-Turkmenistan memorandum of understanding was signed to build a new railway which will add to the 917 km railway from Ozen (in Kazakhstan) to Gorgan (in Iran) via Turkmenistan that began in 2014 and which was funded primarily by the three powers.

Another agreement was signed on 10 December to create an Iran-Azerbaijan-Georgia transit route connecting the Persian Gulf with the Black Sea to be completed in March 2022.

Once built, this new route will allow goods to move from Iran’s southern ports to Europe and Central Europe directly over land.

Reporting on this development, the Caspian Report stated that “effectively combining the capacity of all three would allow Iran to connect the Oman Sea and the Gulf to the south, Afghanistan and Pakistan to the east, Central Asia to the northeast and the Caucasus to the northwest.”

On 12 November, Iranian, Turkish and UAE leaders signed a new cooperation agreement to start work on a new transportation corridor between the three nations with goods arriving from the UAE to Iran’s Port Shahid Rajaee, then transported over land to Turkey and thence to Europe, cutting eight days off  conventional sea routes.

This is all part of the broader INSTC which just last summer saw the first cargo arriving to India via Iran from Finland.

Security cooperation

In addition to building new transport and energy grids between the historic rivals, the leaders of Turkey and Iran signed a strategic security agreement on 21 October with Iran’s Interior Minister Vahidi saying: “Iran-Turkey ties will speed up. The two states will together end regional instability and foil enemy plots. The two countries will not allow others to disrupt their relations.”

One month later, Vahidi’s sentiments were amplified by Prime Minister Erdogan who held a press conferencealongside Raisi saying: “The White House is training and arming all terrorist groups in the region, including ISIS and the PKK, and providing them with terrorist equipment and tools to create insecurity.”

The two leaders not only signed security cooperation agreements to fight foreign-sponsored terrorism, but also advanced plans for a new free trade zone with preferential tariffs for all regional nations.

While Saudi Arabia has been among the most stubborn of the Persian Gulf states to adapt to the new reality shaping Southwest Asia, the UAE has been among the quickest.

No longer do the promises of western backers appear as attractive as they did a decade ago, especially considering the speed of economic disintegration of the ‘Titanic’ speculative bubbles known as the Trans-Atlantic economy.

In this spirit of simply wanting to survive if nothing else, the UAE has not only suspended US military deals, unveiled regional transport hubs, and advanced frontier scientific investments in space and atomic power. Additionally, we have also seen Iran and the UAE agreeing to “open a new page in Iran-UAE relations.”

On 6 December, Iran’s President met with the UAE’s National Security in Tehran saying: “the security of the countries in the region is intertwined and Iran supports the Persian Gulf littoral states. There should be no obstacle in the relations between the two Muslim countries of Iran and the UAE, and these relations must not be influenced by outsiders.”

The UAE representative stated in return: “We are the children of this region and we have a common destiny, so the development of relations between our two countries is on our agenda … we hope that a new chapter of relations with our two countries will begin.”

A new paradigm emerges

While the west is busy sabre-rattling, imposing unilateral sanctions and virtue signaling their rules-based superiority, the world has moved ahead towards a new multipolar system premised on genuine cooperation.

Based on this positive momentum, it is only a matter of time before the Economic Cooperation Organization fully incorporates into the Russian-led Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU) which itself has already integrated deeply into China’s Belt and Road Initiative.

As it stands the long-awaited Iran-EAEU free trade zone is on the cusp of being finalized and this watershed will create many potentials for an expanded power bloc.

As Iranian MP Mohsen Zanganeh stated: “I think that if we focus our attention on Eastern countries, especially those in Central Asia, East Asia, as well as Eastern Europe, instead of focusing on the West, we can definitely benefit from their considerable economic potential… As you are aware, we are facing a lot of challenges in interacting with Western countries, because of the United States and Israel’s attitudes toward Iran. But the same challenges don’t exist in our ties with Eastern nations. That creates a great opportunity for our economy.”

With this new set of relationships in place, a chance at Syrian reconstruction has emerged with Iran and Iraq building the first railway connecting both nations in the form of the Shalamcheh-Basra railway.

If the 2018 Iraq-Iran Provisional Agreement is also revived, then this small railway can be extended 1,570 km through Iraq to Syria’s Latakia Port and Lebanon as a southern corridor for the New Silk Road. Syria’s return to the Arab League in the coming months makes this project much easier to achieve.

Despite the fact that old imperial habits die hard, there is obviously a new game in town, and anyone who wants to have a future should come to the recognition that they must learn to play by a new set of rules. These are rules which reject regime changes, divide-to-conquer tactics, or zero-sum thinking.

Much more in alignment with natural law, the Greater Eurasian Partnership is driven by win-win cooperation and building up the powers of productivity within a community of sovereign nation states.

Where one paradigm is unipolar, the other is multipolar; and where one is premised on extracting wealth from a fixed set of resources in order to get nations to fight for scraps, the other creates new wealth while harmonizing diverse interests into a greater whole. Which one would you rather live in?

The views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect those of The Cradle.

Iran’s SCO promotion & the rise of a new world order: Report

September 27, 2021

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Description: 

A recent report published on Al Mayadeen’s website highlights the significance of Iran’s accession to full membership status at the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), a powerful international body that just grew even bigger.

The report suggests that Iran’s admission into the SCO is part of a broader global shift to a new world order in which the Asian region plays a central role.

Source:  Al Mayadeen (Website)

Date:  September 17, 2021

(Note: Please help us keep producing independent translations by contributing a small monthly amount here )

Transcript:

Iran is a Full Member of the “Shanghai Organization” … Timing and Economic Importance

17 September, 2021

The acceptance of Iran as a full member of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) at this time  indicates(positive) signs (for the Islamic Republic), as it coincides with changes inside and outside the country. (These) changes appear to be in (Iran’s) favor, especially after it broke the US economic embargo by signing a strategic partnership agreement with China.

The Shanghai Cooperation Organization summit began today in Dushanbe, the capital of Tajikistan, on the 20th anniversary of the foundation of this organization. The (SCO) defines itself as an international political, economic and security organization with a regional character represented by the Eurasia region. It was founded by China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan in the year 2001.

In 2005, Iran, India and Pakistan joined the organization as observer members, and in 2017, India and Pakistan became permanent members. Afghanistan, Mongolia and Belarus are currently observer member states of the organization, while the countries of Armenia, the Republic of Azerbaijan, Nepal, Cambodia, Turkey and Sri Lanka applied to join the organization in 2015.

However, the role of this organization and its political influence extend beyond the Eurasia region to other regions of the Asian continent, and even beyond (Asia’s) borders, given the economic and military weight enjoyed by its members. It is also gradually expanding outside its narrow scope by including other countries from the Central Asian region, the most important of which are India and Pakistan.


Iran as a Full Member of the Shanghai Organization

In another expansionary step with great significance at various levels, the Organization announced at its meeting today – through the words of Chinese President Xi Jinping – its acceptance to grant Iran full membership after (Tehran) had been an observer member for years. The Chinese president said: “Iran will be considered a full member of the Shanghai Organization at today’s meeting.”


The Significance of the Timing of the Membership

Granting Iran full membership within the Shanghai Organization at this time seems remarkable as it comes after:

1)  The China-Iran strategic agreement, which was signed in Tehran on March 27 (2021), after a regional tour by Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi that included the Gulf states and Turkey. The Strategic Partnership Agreement, as it was called, is a 25-year agreement between the two countries covering the political, economic, military and industrial fields.

This agreement serves both countries, as it guarantees the global economic giant (China) further expansion in its role and establishment of its presence on the international scene, especially in the countries that the United States has placed on the list of “forbidden regions” upon which harsh economic sanctions are imposed. It also gives Iran an opportunity to liberate itself from these sanctions and sell its oil products which the US not only refuses to buy, but also prevents other countries from buying by threatening them with sanctions, in an attempt to put economic pressure on Iran to change its political positions.

(According to this agreement), in return for its exported oil, Iran can import what it needs in terms of industrial equipment, machinery and expertise, and prepare (develop) its ports and infrastructure with Chinese assistance. (This step) allows China to use these facilities to export its products via land and sea towards the eastern shores of the Mediterranean, and on to the European continent in the north, and Africa in the south.


2) The complete and rushed US military withdrawal from Afghanistan, the country that has been occupied by the United States and its NATO allies for 20 years.

Afghanistan is located within the borders of the Eurasian region, between the two major countries in the world, China and Russia. The United States sought to prevent the rapprochement (between these two countries) and impede their economic growth, especially China’s, by cutting off the routes for its land and sea exports to the West, and threatening its security by igniting wars and security disturbances.

It is worth noting that it is no coincidence that the organization was formed only 4 months before the date of the American invasion of Afghanistan, and to the sound of the drums of war that the US and Britain started after the September 11 attacks that toppled the World Trade Center in New York and targeted the US Department of Defense (Pentagon).

The US role in obstructing the work of the Shanghai Organization and the growth of China’s economic standing was demonstrated by the rush of the “Taliban” movement leaders – which quickly and gradually seized all the Afghan regions in conjunction with the departure of the occupying (US) forces – to visit China, meet officials in its Foreign Ministry, emphasize China’s pivotal role in the reconstruction of the country exhausted by occupation and conflicts, and reassure (Beijing) that they will not use Afghan territory to target the security of other countries.


3) The election of a new president of Iran last June.

The (former) head of the judiciary and a strongman, Ibrahim Raisi won by a large margin of votes over his remaining rivals, this after the withdrawal of the most famous candidates in his favor, one of which was the former chief nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili.

Since the beginning of his term, Raisi has sought to enhance his country’s presence and position in the world by strengthening its relations at the regional level, and benefiting from all its capabilities, foremost of which is its geographical location. During his speech at the (Shanghai) summit, the Iranian president stated that “Iran can be a bridge for Eurasia linking the north to the south.”

Before heading to Tajikistan, Raisi said that his country’s participation in the summit “will focus on our economic and cultural relations with Asian countries,” stressing that “cooperation with neighboring countries and the region is a top priority of Iran’s foreign policy.” Last August, Raisi declared that strengthening Iran’s relations with Russia and China, the two main members of the organization, was one of the priorities of his foreign policy.


Creating Economic Opportunities for Iran and Liberating it from the US Embargo

Of the three previous points, the strategic agreement between Iran and China – Beijing forming the most prominent pillar of the organization – is the most important thing that contributed to Iran’s full membership. What occurred appears to be nothing other than the expansion of the official international recognition of Iran’s regional role and presence; a greater facilitation (for Iran) to help it get through the (all-out) US embargo; and the creation of opportunities for Iran in different fields by China and Russia.

President Vladimir Putin stated during his speech at the summit that his country “supports the decision submitted for approval by the Council of Heads of State of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization regarding the start of procedures for Iran’s admission to the organization,” stressing the mutual importance of its admission by saying that this would “increase the international influence of the organization.”

The first Iranian comment came from the spokesman for the head of the Iranian Parliament, Nizamuddin Mousavi, who said in an interview with ISNA that what we are witnessing is “the establishment of a new world order, where the Eastern Power Quartet (Russia, China, India, Iran) brings together some of the most important international players in this new world order.” He added that “Iran’s admission into this organization, despite Washington’s opposition, proves that the era of unilateral policies is over, and that we are witnessing the establishment of a new world order.”

In economic terms, Mousavi said that his country’s admission “means reaching a market of 3 billion people, and this is a great opportunity that requires a roadmap so that we can benefit from it in the best way.”

This accession was preceded by the nuclear negotiations between Iran and the P5+1 states, several rounds of which were conducted in the Austrian capital Vienna in the last months of the term of former President Hassan Rouhani. There was talk of future rounds of negotiations after the formation of the first Iranian government under President Ibrahim Raisi. The accession (of Iran to SCO membership) also came after the positive visit of the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Rafael Grossi, to Tehran, and his meeting with the head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, Mohammad Eslami.

All the foregoing factors contribute to the reassurance that Iran feels at the beginning of Ibrahim Raisi presidency, and brings the country closer to an international position that (Tehran) seeks despite the obstacles posed by its enemies. However, to hold on to these gains and take advantage of the new opportunities available, Iran will face major challenges (in the road ahead).


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Eurasian consolidation ends the US unipolar moment – Part 2 of 2

SEPTEMBER 24, 2021

Eurasian consolidation ends the US unipolar moment – Part 2 of 2

By Pepe Escobar, posted with permission and first posted at Asia Times

Part 1 is here

The 20th anniversary summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) in Dushanbe, Tajikistan, enshrined no less than a new geopolitical paradigm.

Iran, now a full SCO member, was restored to its traditionally prominent Eurasian role, following the recent $400 billion-worth trade and development deal struck with China. Afghanistan was the main topic – with all players agreeing on the path ahead, as detailed in the Dushanbe Declaration. And all Eurasian integration paths are now converging, in unison, towards the new geopolitical – and geoeconomic – paradigm.

Call it a multipolar development dynamic in synergy with the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).

The Dushanbe Declaration was quite explicit on what Eurasian players are aiming at: “a more representative, democratic, just and multipolar world order based on universally recognized principles of international law, cultural and civilizational diversity, mutually beneficial and equal cooperation of states under the central coordinating role of the UN.”

For all the immense challenges inherent to the Afghan jigsaw puzzle, hopeful signs emerged this Tuesday, when Hamid Karzai and Abdullah Abdullah met in Kabul with the Russian presidential envoy Zamir Kabulov, China’s special envoy Yue Xiaoyong, and Pakistan’s special envoy Mohammad Sadiq Khan.

This troika – Russia, China, Pakistan – is at the diplomatic forefront. The SCO reached a consensus that Islamabad will be coordinating with the Taliban the formation of a government also including Tajiks, Uzbeks and Hazaras.

The most glaring, immediate consequence of the SCO not only incorporating Iran but also taking the Afghan bull by the horns, fully supported by the Central Asian “stans”, is that the Empire of Chaos has been completely marginalized.

From Southwest Asia to Central Asia, a real reset has as protagonists the SCO, the Eurasia Economic Union (EAEU), BRI and the Russia-China strategic partnership. The missing links so far, for different reasons – Iran and Afghanistan – are now fully incorporated to the chessboard.

In my frequent conversations with Alastair Crooke, one of the world’s foremost political analysts, he evoked once again Lampedusa’s The Leopard: everything must change so everything must remain the same. In this case, imperial hegemony, as interpreted by Washington: “In its growing confrontation with China, a ruthless Washington has demonstrated that what matters to it now is not Europe, but the Indo-Pacific region.” That’s Cold War 2.0 prime terrain.

With very little potential to contain China now that it’s been all but expelled from the Eurasia heartland, the fallback position had to be a classic maritime power play: the “free and open Indo-Pacific”, complete with Quad and AUKUS, the whole set up spun to death as an “effort” attempting to preserve dwindling American supremacy.

The sharp contrast between the SCO continental integration drive and the “we all live in an Aussie submarine” gambit (my excuses to Lennon-McCartney) speaks for itself. A toxic mix of hubris and desperation is in the air, with not even a whiff of pathos to alleviate the downfall.

The Global South is not impressed. Addressing the forum in Dushanbe, President Putin remarked that the portfolio of nations knocking on the SCO’s door was huge, and that was not surprising at all. Egypt, Qatar and Saudi Arabia are now SCO dialogue partners, on the same level with Afghanistan and Turkey. It’s quite feasible they may be joined next year by Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Serbia and a cast of dozens.

And it doesn’t stop in Eurasia. In his meticulously timed address to CELAC, Xi Jinping no less than invited 33 Latin American nations to be part of the Eurasia-Africa-Americas New Silk Roads.

Remember the Scythians

Iran as a SCO protagonist and at the center of the New Silk Roads restores it to a rightful historic role. By the middle of the first millennium B.C., Northern Iranians ruled the core of the steppes in Central Eurasia. By that time the Scythians had migrated into the Western steppe, while other steppe Iranians made inroads as far away as China.

Scythians – a Northern (or “East”) Iranian people – were not necessarily just fierce warriors. That’s a crude stereotype. Very few in the West know that the Scythians developed a sophisticated trade system, as described by Herodotus among others, linking Greece, Persia and China.

And why’s that? Because trade was an essential means to support their sociopolitical infrastructure. Herodotus got the picture because he actually visited the city of Olbia and other places in Scythia.

The Scythians were called Saka by the Persians – and that leads us to another fascinating territory: the Sakas may have been one of the prime ancestors of the Pashtun in Afghanistan.

What’s in a name – Scythian? Well, multitudes. The Greek form Scytha meant Northern Iranian “archer”. So that was the denomination of all the Northern Iranian peoples living between Greece in the West and China in the East.

Now imagine a very busy international commerce network developed across the heartland, with the focus on Central Eurasia, by the Scythians, the Sogdians, and even the Xiongnu – who kept battling the Chinese on and off, as detailed by early Greek and Chinese historical sources.

These Central Eurasians traded with all the peoples living on their borders: that meant Europeans, Southwest Asians, South Asians and East Asians. They were the precursors of the multiple Ancient Silk Roads.

The Sogdians followed the Scythians; Sogdiana was an independent Greco-Bactrian state in the 3rd century B.C. – encompassing areas of northern Afghanistan – before it was conquered by nomads from the east that ended up establishing the Kushan empire, which soon expanded south into India.

Zoroaster was born in Sogdiana; Zoroastrianism was huge in Central Asia for centuries. The Kushans for their part adopted Buddhism: and that’s how Buddhism eventually arrived in China.

By the fist century A.D. all these Central Asian empires were linked – via long-distance trade – to Iran, India and China. That was the historical basis of the multiple, Ancient Silk Roads – which linked China to the West for several centuries until the Age of Discovery configured the fateful Western maritime trade dominance.

Arguably, even more than a series of interlinked historical phenomena, the denomination “Silk Road” works best as a metaphor of cross-cultural connectivity. That’s what is at the heart of the Chinese concept of New Silk Roads. And average people across the heartland feel it, because that’s imprinted in the collective unconscious in Iran, China and all Central Asian “stans”.

The Revenge of the Heartland

Glenn Diesen, Professor at the University of South-Eastern Norway and an editor at the Russia in Global Affairs journal, is among the very few top scholars who are analyzing the process of Eurasia integration in depth.

His latest book practically spells out the whole story in its title: Europe as the Western Peninsula of Greater Eurasia: Geoeconomic Regions in a Multipolar World.

Diesen shows, in detail, how a “Greater Eurasia region, that integrates Asia and Europe, is currently being negotiated and organized with a Chinese-Russian partnership at the center. Eurasian geoeconomic instruments of power are gradually forming the foundation of a super-region with new strategic industries, transportation corridors and financial instruments. Across the Eurasian continent, states as different as South Korea, India, Kazakhstan and Iran are all advancing various formats for Eurasia integration.”

The Greater Eurasia Partnership has been at the center of Russian foreign policy at least since the St. Petersburg forum in 2016. Diesen duly notes that, “while Beijing and Moscow share the ambition to construct a larger Eurasian region, their formats differ. The common denominator of both formats is the necessity of a Sino-Russian partnership to integrate Eurasia.” That’s what was made very clear at the SCO summit.

It’s no wonder the process irks the Empire immensely, because Greater Eurasia, led by Russia-China, is a mortal attack against the geoeconomic architecture of Atlanticism. And that leads us to the nest of vipers debate around the EU concept of “strategic autonomy” from the US; that would be essential to establish true European sovereignty – and eventually, closer integration within Eurasia.

European sovereignty is simply non-existent when its foreign policy means submission to dominatrix NATO. The humiliating, unilateral withdrawal of Afghanistan coupled with Anglo-only AUKUS was a graphic illustration that the Empire doesn’t give a damn about its European vassals.

Throughout the book Diesen shows, in detail, how the concept of Eurasia unifying Europe and Asia “has through history been an alternative to the dominance of maritime powers in the oceanic-centric world economy”, and how “British and American strategies have been deeply influenced” by the ghost of an emerging Eurasia, “a direct threat to their advantageous position in the oceanic world order”.

Now, the crucial factor seems to be the fragmentation of Atlanticism. Diesen identifies three levels: the de facto decoupling of Europe and the US propelled by Chinese ascendancy; the mind-boggling internal divisions in the EU, enhanced by the parallel universe inhabited by Brussels eurocrats; and last but not least, “polarization within Western states” caused by the excesses of neoliberalism.

Well, just as we think we’re out, Mackinder and Spykman pull us back in. It’s always the same story: the Anglo-American obsession in preventing the rise of a “peer competitor” (Brzezinski) in Eurasia, or an alliance (Russia-Germany in the Mackinder era, now the Russia-China strategic partnership) capable, as Diesen puts it, “of wrestling geoeconomic control away from the oceanic powers.”

As much as imperial strategists remain hostages of Spykman – who ruled that the US must control the maritime periphery of Eurasia – definitely it’s not AUKUS/Quad that is going to pull it off.

Very few people, East and West, may remember that Washington had developed its own Silk Road concept during the Bill Clinton years – later co-opted by Dick Cheney with a Pipelineistan twist, and then circling all back to Hillary Clinton, announcing her own Silk Road dream in India in 2011.

Diesen reminds us how Hillary sounded remarkably like a proto-Xi: “Let’s work together to create a new Silk Road. Not a single thoroughfare like its namesake, but an international web and network of economic and transit connections. That means building more rail lines, highways, energy infrastructure, like the proposed pipeline to run from Turkmenistan, through Afghanistan, through Pakistan and India.”

Hillary does Pipelineistan! Well, in the end, she didn’t. Reality dictates that Russia is connecting its European and Pacific regions, while China connects its developed east coast with Xinjiang, and both connect Central Asia. Diesen interprets it as Russia “completing its historical conversion from a European/Slavic empire to a Eurasian civilizational state.”

So in the end we’re back to…the Scythians. The prevailing neo-Eurasia concept revives the mobility of nomadic civilizations – via top transportation infrastructure – to connect everything between Europe and Asia. We could call it the Revenge of the Heartland: they are the powers building this new, interconnected Eurasia. Say goodbye to the ephemeral, post-Cold War US unipolar moment.

Back to the future: Talibanistan, Year 2000

Back to the future: Talibanistan, Year 2000

August 31, 2021

by Pepe Escobar for The Saker Blog and friends

Dear reader: this is very special, a trip down memory lane like no other: back to prehistoric times – the pre-9/11, pre-YouTube, pre-social network world.

Welcome to Taliban Afghanistan – Talibanistan – in the Year 2000. This is when photographer Jason Florio and myself slowly crossed it overland from east to west, from the Pakistani border at Torkham to the Iranian border at Islam qillah. As Afghan ONG workers acknowledged, we were the first Westerners to pull this off in years.

Fatima, Maliha and Nouria, at home in Kabul

Those were the days. Bill Clinton was enjoying his last stretch at the White House. Osama bin Laden was a discreet guest of Mullah Omar – hitting the front pages only occasionally. There was no hint of 9/11, the invasion of Iraq, the “war on terror”, the perpetual financial crisis, the Russia-China strategic partnership. Globalization ruled, and the US was the undisputed global top dog. The Clinton administration and the Taliban were deep into Pipelineistan territory – arguing over the tortuous, proposed Trans-Afghan gas pipeline.

We tried everything, but we couldn’t even get a glimpse of Mullah Omar. Osama bin Laden was also nowhere to be seen. But we did experience Talibanistan in action, in close detail.

Today is a special day to revisit it. The Forever War in Afghanistan is over; from now on it will be a Hybrid mongrel, against the integration of Afghanistan into the New Silk Roads and Greater Eurasia.

In 2000 I wrote a Talibanistan road trip special for a Japanese political magazine, now extinct, and ten years later a 3-part mini-series revisiting it for Asia Times.

Part 2 of this series can be found here, and part 3 here.

Yet this particular essay – part 1 – had completely disappeared from the internet (that’s a long story): I found it recently, by accident, in a hard drive. The images come from the footage I shot at the time with a Sony mini-DV: I just received the file today from Paris.

This is a glimpse of a long-lost world; call it a historical register from a time when no one would even dream of a “Saigon moment” remixed – as a rebranded umbrella of warriors conveniently labeled “Taliban”, after biding their time, Pashtun-style, for two decades, praises Allah for eventually handing them victory over yet another foreign invader.

Now let’s hit the road.

KABUL, GHAZNI – Fatima, Maliha and Nouria, who I used to call The Three Graces, must be by now 40, 39 and 35 years old, respectively. In the year 2000 they lived in an empty, bombed house next to a bullet-ridden mosque in a half-destroyed, apocalyptic theme park Kabul – by then the world capital of the discarded container (or reconstituted by a missile and reconverted into a shop); a city where 70% of the population were refugees, legions of homeless kids carried bags of cash on their backs ($1 was worth more than 60,000 Afghanis) and sheep outnumbered rattling 1960s Mercedes buses.

Under the merciless Taliban theocracy, the Three Graces suffered triple discrimination – as women, Hazaras and Shi’ites. They lived in Kardechar, a neighborhood totally destroyed in the 1990s by the war between Commander Masoud, The Lion of the Panjshir, and the Hazaras (the descendants of mixed marriages between Genghis Khan’s Mongol warriors and Turkish and Tajik peoples) before the Taliban took power in 1996. The Hazaras were always the weakest link in the Tajik-Uzbek-Hazara alliance – supported by Iran, Russia and China – confronting the Taliban.

Every dejected Kabuli intellectual I had met invariably defined the Taliban as “an occupation force of religious fanatics” – their rural medievalism totally absurd for urban Tajiks, used to a tolerant form of Islam. According to a university professor, “their jihad is not against kafirs; it’s against other Muslims who follow Islam”.

I spent a long time talking to the Dari-speaking Three Graces inside their bombed-out home – with translation provided by their brother Aloyuz, who had spent a few years in Iran supporting the family long-distance. This simple fact in itself would assure that if caught, we would all be shot dead by the Taliban V & V – the notorious Department for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice, the Taliban religious police.

This is how bombed-out Kabul looked like in 2000

The Three Graces’ dream was to live “free, not under pressure”. They had never been to a restaurant, a bar or a cinema. Fatima liked “rock” music, which in her case meant Afghan singer Natasha. She said she “liked” the Taliban, but most of all she wanted to get back to school. They never mentioned any discrimination between Sunnis and Shi’ites; they actually wanted to leave for Pakistan.

Their definition of “human rights” included priority for education, the right to work, and to get a job in the state sector; Fatima and Maliha wanted to be doctors. Perhaps they are, today, in Hazara land; 21 years ago they spent their days weaving beautiful silk shawls.

Education was terminally forbidden for girls over 12. The literacy rate among women was only 4%. Outside the Three Graces’ house, almost every woman was a “widow of war”, enveloped in dusty light blue burqas, begging to support their children. Not only this was an unbearable humiliation in the context of an ultra-rigid Islamic society, it contradicted the Taliban obsession of preserving the “honor and purity” of their women.

Kabul’s population was then 2 million; less than 10%, concentrated in the periphery, supported the Taliban. True Kabulis regarded them as barbarians. For the Taliban, Kabul was more remote than Mars. Every day at sunset the Intercontinental Hotel, by then an archeological ruin, received an inevitable Taliban sightseeing group. They’d come to ride the lift (the only one in town) and walk around the empty swimming pool and tennis court. They’d be taking a break from cruising around town in their fleet of imported-from-Dubai Toyota Hi-Lux, complete with Islamic homilies painted in the windows, Kalashnikovs on show and little whips on hand to impose on the infidels the appropriate, Islamically correct, behavior. But at least the Three Graces were safe; they never left their bombed-out shelter.

Doubt is sin, debate is heresy

Few things were more thrilling in Talibanistan 21 years ago than to alight at Pul-e-Khisshti – the fabled Blue Mosque, the largest in Afghanistan – on a Friday afternoon after Jumma prayers and confront the One Thousand and One Nights assembled cast. Any image of this apotheosis of thousands of black or white-turbaned rustic warriors, kohl in their eyes and the requisite macho-sexy stare, would be all the rage on the cover of Uomo Vogue. To even think of taking a photo was anathema; the entrance to the mosque was always swarming with V & V informants.

Finally, in one of those eventful Friday afternoons, I managed to be introduced into the Holy Grail – the secluded quarters of maulvi (priest) Noor Muhamad Qureishi, by then the Taliban Prophet in Kabul. He had never exchanged views with a Westerner. It was certainly one of the most surrealist interviews of my life.

Qureishi, like all Taliban religious leaders, was educated in a Pakistani madrassa. At first, he was your typical hardcore deobandi; the deobandis, as the West would later find out, were an initially progressive movement born in India in the mid-19th century to revive Islamic values vis-à-vis the sprawling British Empire. But they soon derailed into megalomania, discrimination against women and Shi’ite-hatred.

Most of all, Quereishi was the quintessential product of a boom – the connection between the ISI and the Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) party during the 1980s anti-Soviet jihad, when thousands of madrassas were built in Pakistan’s Pashtun belt. Afghan refugees had the right to free education, a roof over their heads, three meals a day and military training. Their “educators” were semi-illiterate maulvis who had never known the reformist agenda of the original deobandi movement.

On the Afghanistan-Iran border at Islam qilla

Reclined on a tattered cushion over one of the mosque’s ragged carpets, Qureishi laid down the deobandi law in Pashto for hours. Among other things he said the movement was “the most popular” because its ideologues dreamed that Prophet Muhammad ordered them to build a madrassa in Deoband, India. So this was Islam’s purest form “because it came directly from Muhammad”. Despite the formidable catalogue of Taliban atrocities, he insisted on their “purity”.

Qureishi dabbled on the inferiority of Hindus because of their sacred cows (“why not dogs, at least they are faithful to their owners”). As for Buddhism, it was positively depraved (“Buddha is an idol”). He would have had a multiple heart attack with Thailand’s Buddhist go-go girls, dancing topless at night and offering incense at the temple the morning after.

Doubt is sin. Debate is heresy. “The only true knowledge is the Koran”. He insisted that all “forms of modern scientific knowledge came from the Koran”. As an example, he quoted – what else – a Koranic verse (the Koran, by the way, in its neo-deobandi, Talibanized version, forbade women to write, and allowed education only up to 10 years old). I could not help being reminded of that 18th century French anonymous – a typical product of the Enlightenment – who had written the Treaty of the Three Impostors – Moses, Jesus and Muhammad; but if I tried to insert the European Enlightenment into (his) monologue I would probably be shot dead. Basically, Qureishi finally managed to convince me that all this religious shadow play was about proving that “my sect is purer than yours”.

Village elders in Herat

Play it again, infidel

Talibanistan lived under a strict Kalashnikov culture. But the supreme anti-Taliban lethal weapon was not a gun, or even a mortar or RPG. It was a camera. I knew inevitably that day would come, and it came on Kabul stadium, built by the former USSR to extol proletarian internationalism; another Friday, at 5 pm, the weekly soccer hour – the only form of entertainment absent from the Taliban’s Index Prohibitorum apart from public executions and mango ice cream.

Jason and me were lodged at the VIP tribune – less than 10 US cents for the ticket. The stadium was packed – but silent as a mosque. Two teams, the red and the blue, were playing the Islamically correct way – with extra skirts under their trunks. At half time the whole stadium – to the sound of “Allah Akbar” – run to pray by the pitch; those who didn’t were spanked or thrown in jail.

Jason had his cameras hanging from his neck but he was not using them. Yet that was more than enough for a hysteric V & V teenage informant. We are escorted out of the stands by a small army of smiling, homoerotic brotherhood, those who were then referred to as “soldiers of Allah”. Finally we are presented to a white-turbaned Talib with assassin’s eyes; he’s no one other than mullah Salimi, the vice-Minister of the religious police in Kabul – the reincarnation of The Great Inquisitor. We are finally escorted out of the stadium and thrown into a Hi-Lux, destination unknown. Suddenly we are more popular with the crowd than the soccer match itself.

At a Taliban “office” – a towel on the grass in front of a bombed-out building, decorated with a mute sat-phone – we are charged with espionage. Our backpacks are thoroughly searched. Salimi inspects two rolls of film from Jason’s cameras; no incriminating photo. It’s now the turn of my Sony mini-DV camera. We press “play”; Salimi recoils in horror. We explain nothing is recorded on the blue screen. What was really recorded – he just needed to press “rewind” – would be enough to send us to the gallows, including a lot of stuff with the Three Graces. Once again we noticed the Taliban badly needed not only art directors and PR agents but also info-tech whiz kids.

Carpet-weaving at the Herat bazaar

In Taliban anti-iconography, video, in theory, might be allowed, because the screen is a mirror. Anyway, later we would know from the lion’s mouth, that is, the Ministry of Information and Culture in Kandahar: TV and video would remain perpetually banned.

At that time, a few photo-studios survived near one of the Kabul bazaars – only churning out 3X4 photos for documents. The owners paid their bills renting their Xerox machines. The Zahir Photo Studio still had on its walls a collection of black and white and sepia photos of Kabul, Herat, minarets, nomads and caravans. Among Leicas, superb Speed Graphic 8 X 10 and dusty Russian panoramic cameras, Mr. Zahir would lament, “photography is dead in Afghanistan”. At least, that wouldn’t be for long.

The 11th century Ghazni minaret with, on the foreground, a Taliban military base

So after an interminable debate in Pashto with some Urdu and English thrown in, we are “liberated”. Some Taliban – but certainly not Salimi, still piercing us with his assassin’s eyes – try a formal apology, saying this is incompatible with the Pashtun code of hospitality. All tribal Pashtun – like the Taliban – follow the pashtunwali, the rigid code that emphasizes, among other things, hospitality, vengeance and a pious Islamic life. According to the code, it’s a council of elders that arbitrates specific disputes, applying a compendium of laws and punishments. Most cases involve murders, land disputes and trouble with women. For the Pashtun, the line between pashtunwali and Sharia was always fuzzy.

A Kuchi nomad caravan going south towards Kandahar.

The V & V obviously was not a creation of Mullah Omar, the “Leader of the Faithful”; it was based on a Saudi Arabian original. In its heyday, in the second half of the 1990s, the V & V was a formidable intelligence agency – with informers infiltrated in the Army, ministries, hospitals, UN agencies, NGOs – evoking a bizarre memory of KHAD, the enormous intel agency of the 1980’s communist regime, during the anti-USSR jihad. The difference is that the V & V only answered to orders – issued on bits and pieces of paper – of Mullah Omar himself.

Rock the base

The verdict echoed like a dagger piercing the oppressive air of the desert near Ghazni. A 360-degree panoramic shot revealed a background of mountains where the mineral had expelled all the vegetal; the silhouette of two 11th century minarets; and a foreground of tanks, helicopters and rocket launchers. The verdict, issued in Pashto and mumbled by our scared official translator imposed by Kabul, was inexorable: “You will be denounced in a military court. The investigation will be long, six months; meanwhile you will await the decision in jail”.

Once again, we were being charged with espionage, but now this was the real deal. We could be executed with a shot on the back of the neck – Khmer Rouge style. Or stoned. Or thrown into a shallow grave and buried alive by a brick wall smashed by a tractor. Brilliant Taliban methods for the final solution were myriad. And to think this was all happening because of two minarets.

To walk over a supposedly mined field trying to reach two minarets was not exactly a brilliant idea in the first place. Red Army experts, during the 1980s, buried 12 million mines in Afghanistan. They diversified like crazy; more than 50 models, from Zimbabwe’s RAP-2s to Belgium’s NR-127s. UN officials had assured us that more than half the country was mined. Afghan officials at the Mine Detention Center in Herat, with their 50 highly trained German shepherds, would later tell us that it would take 22,000 years to demine the whole country.

My objects of desire in Ghazni were two “Towers of Victory”; two circular superstructures, isolated in the middle of the desert and built by the Sassanians as minarets – commemorative, not religious; there was never a mosque in the surroundings. In the mid-19th century scholars attributed the grand minaret to Mahmud, protector of Avicenna and the great Persian poet Ferdowsi. Today it is known that the small minaret dates from 1030, and the big one, from 1099. They are like two brick rockets pointing to the sheltering sky and claiming for the attention of those travelling the by then horrific Kabul-Kandahar highway, a Via Dolorosa of multinational flat tires – Russian, Chinese, Iranian.

The problem is that, 21 years ago, right adjacent to the minarets, there was an invisible Taliban military base. At first we could see only an enormous weapons depot. We asked a sentinel to take a few pictures; he agreed. Walking around the depot – between carcasses of Russian tanks and armored cars – we found some functioning artillery pieces. And a lone, white Taliban flag. And not a living soul. This did look like an abandoned depot. But then we hit on a destroyed Russian helicopter – a prodigy of conceptual art. Too late: soon we are intercepted by a Taliban out of nowhere.

The commander of the base wanted to know “under which law” we assumed we had the right to take photos. He wanted to know which was the punishment, “in our country”, for such an act. When the going was really getting tough, everything turned Monty Python. One of the Taliban had walked back to the road to fetch our driver, Fateh. They came back two hours later. The commander talked to Fateh in Pashto. And then we were “liberated”, out of “respect for Fateh’s white beard”. But we should “confess” to our crime – which we did right away, over and over again.

The fact of the matter is that we were freed because I was carrying a precious letter hand-signed by the all-powerful Samiul Haq, the leader of Haqqania, the factory-cum-academy, Harvard and M.I.T. of Taliban in Akhora Khatak, on the Grand Trunk Road between Islamabad and Peshawar in Pakistan. Legions of Taliban ministers, province governors, military commanders, judges and bureaucrats had studied in Haqqania.

Haqqania was founded in 1947 by deobandi religious scholar Abdul Haq, the father of maulvi and former senator Samiul Haq, a wily old hand fond of brothels and as engaging as a carpet vendor in the Peshawar bazaars. He was a key educator of the first detribalized, urbanized and literate Afghan generation; “literate”, of course, in Haqqania-branded, Deobandi-style Islam. In Haqqania – where I saw hundreds of students from Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan indoctrinated to later export Talibanization to Central Asia – debate was heresy, the master was infallible and Samiul Haq was almost as perfect as Allah.

He had told me – no metaphor intended – that “Allah had chosen Mullah Omar to be the leader of the Taliban”. And he was sure that when the Islamic Revolution reached Pakistan, “it will be led by a unknown rising from the masses” – like Mullah Omar. At the time Haq was Omar’s consultant on international relations and Sharia-based decisions. He bundled up both Russia and the US as “enemies of our time”; blamed the US for the Afghan tragedy; but otherwise offered to hand over Osama bin Laden to the US if Bill Clinton guaranteed no interference in Afghan affairs.

Turn left for the Ministry of Foreign Relations – at the time only recognized by Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and the UAE

Back in Ghazni, the Taliban commander even invited us for some green tea. Thanks but no thanks. We thanked Allah’s mercy by visiting the tomb of sultan Mahmud in Razah, less than one kilometer from the towers. The tomb is a work of art – translucid marble engraved with Kufic lettering. Islamic Kufic lettering, if observed as pure design, reveals itself as a transposition of the verb, from the audible to the visible. So the conclusion was inevitable; the Taliban had managed to totally ignore the history of their own land, building a military base over two architectural relics and incapable of recognizing even the design of their own Islamic lettering as a form of art.


All pictures taken from The Roving Eye Video Archives. Pepe Escobar, 2000

How St. Petersburg is mapping the Eurasian Century

How St. Petersburg is mapping the Eurasian Century

June 04, 2021

By Pepe Escobar with permission and first posted at Asia Times

It’s impossible to understand the finer points of what’s happening on the ground in Russia and across Eurasia, business-wise, without following the annual St. Petersburg International Economic Forum (SPIEF).

So let’s cut to the chase, and offer a few choice examples of what is discussed on top panels.

The Russian Far East – Here’s a discussion on the – largely successful – strategies boosting productive investment in industry and infrastructure across the Russian Far East. Manufacturing in Russia grew by 12.2% between 2015 and 2020; in the Far East it was almost double, 23.1%. And from 2018 to 2020, per capita investment in fixed capital was 40% higher than the national average. The next steps center on improving infrastructure; opening global markets to Russian companies; and most of all, finding the necessary funds (China? South Korea?) for advanced tech.

St. Isaac’s cathedral, St. Petersburg

The Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) – As I’ve seen for myself in previous editions of the forum, there’s nothing remotely similar in the West in terms of seriously discussing an organization like the SCO – which has progressively evolved from its initial security focus towards a wide-ranging politico-economic role.

Russia presided the SCO in 2019-2020, when foreign policy got a fresh impetus and the socioeconomic consequences of Covid-19 were seriously addressed. Now the collective emphasis should be on how to turn these member nations – especially the Central Asian “stans” – more attractive for global investors. Panelists include former SCO secretary-general Rashid Alimov, and the current one, Vladimir Norov.

Eurasian partnership – This discussion involves what should be one of the key nodes of the Eurasian Century: the International North-South Transportation Corridor (INSTC). An important historical precedent apply: the 8th-9th centuries Volga trade route that connected Western Europe to Persia – and could now be extended, in a variation of the Maritime Silk Road, all the way to ports in India. That raises a number of questions, ranging from the development of trade and technology to the harmonic implementation of digital platforms. Here one finds panelists from Russia, India, Iran, Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan.

The Greater Eurasian partnership – Greater Eurasia is the overarching Russian concept applied to the consolidation of the Eurasian Century. This discussion is largely focused on Big Tech, including full digitalization, automated managing systems and Green growth. The question is how a radical tech transition could work for pan-Eurasia interests.

And that’s where the Russian-led Eurasia Economic Union (EAEU) comes in: how the EAEU’s drive for a Greater Eurasian Partnership should work in practice. Panelists include the chairman of the board of the Eurasian Economic Commission, Mikhail Myasnikovich, and a relic from the Yeltsin past: Anatoliy Chubais, who is now Putin’s special representative for “relations with international organizations to achieve sustainable development goals.”

Gotta ditch all those greenbacks

Arguably the most eye-catching panel on SPIEF was on the post-Covid-19 “new normal” (or abnormal), and how economics will be reshaped. An important sub-section is how Russia can possibly capitalize on it, in terms of productive growth. That was a unique opportunity to see IMF Managing Director Kristalina Georgieva, Russian Central Bank governor Elvira Nabiullina and Russian Minister of Finance Anton Siluanov debating on the same table.

It was Siluanov who in fact commanded all the SPIEF-related headlines when he announced that Russia will totally ditch the US dollar in the structure of the National Wealth Fund (NWF) – the de facto Russian sovereign wealth fund – as well as reduce the share of the British pound. The NWF will have more euros and yuan, more gold, and the yen’s share remains stable.

This ongoing de-dollarization process has been more than predictable. In May, for the first time, less than 50% of Russian exports were denominated in US dollars.

Siluanov explained that the sales of roughly $119 billion in liquid assets will go through the Russian Central Bank, and not through financial markets. In practice, that will be a simple technical transfer of euros to the NWF. The Central Bank after all has been steadily getting rid of the US dollars for years now.

Sooner or later, China will follow. In parallel, some nations across Eurasia, in an extremely discreet manner, are also bypassing what is de facto the currency of a debt-based economy – to the tune of tens of trillions of dollars, as Michael Hudson has been explaining in detail. Not to mention that transacting US dollars exposes whole nations to an extra-territorial, extortionary judicial machine.

On the all-important Chinese-Russian front, permeating all the discussions at SPIEF, is the fact that a pool of Chinese technical knowhow and Russian energy is more than able to solidify a massive pan-Eurasian market capable of dwarfing the West. History tells us that in 1400, India and China were responsible for half of the world’s GDP.

As the West wallows in a self-induced Build Back Better collapse, the Eurasian caravan seems unstoppable. But then, there are those pesky US sanctions.

The Valdai Discussion Club Session dug deeper into the hysteria: sanctions serving a political agenda are threatening vast swathes of the world economic and financial infrastructure. So we’re back once again to the inescapable syndrome of the weaponized US dollar – deployed against India buying Iranian oil and Russian military hardware, or against Chinese tech companies.

Panelists including Russian Deputy Finance Minister Vladimir Kolychev and the UN Special Rapporteur on the “Negative Impact of Unilateral Coercive Measures on the Enjoyment of Human Rights”, Alena Douhan, debated the inevitable new escalation of anti-Russian sanctions.

Another running theme underneath the SPIEF debates is that, whatever happens on the sanctions front, Russia already has an alternative to SWIFT, and so does China. Both systems are compatible with SWIFT in software, so other nations may also be able use it.

No less than 30% of SWIFT’s traffic involves Russia. If that “nuclear “option” would ever come to pass, nations trading with Russia would almost certainly ditch SWIFT. On top of it, Russia, China and Iran – the “threat” trio to the Hegemon – have currency swap agreements, bilaterally and with other nations.

SPIEF this year has taken place only a few days before the G7, NATO and US-EU summits – which will graphically highlight European geopolitical irrelevancy, reduced to the status of a platform for US power projection.

And taking place less than two weeks before the Putin-Biden summit in Geneva, SPIEF most of all performed a public service for those who care to notice, charting some of the most important practical contours of the Eurasian Century.

Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s video address to the Sixth International Conference Russia and China: Cooperation in a New Era, Moscow, June 1, 2021

June 01, 2021

Source

Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s video address to the Sixth International Conference Russia and China: Cooperation in a New Era, Moscow, June 1, 2021
https://thesaker.is/foreign-minister-sergey-lavrovs-video-address-to-the-sixth-international-conference-russia-and-china-cooperation-in-a-new-era-moscow-june-1-2021/

https://www.mid.ru/en/foreign_policy/news/-/asset_publisher/cKNonkJE02Bw/content/id/4759576

Mr Wang Yi,

Mr Ivanov,

Colleagues, friends,

The further development of strategic partnership with China is one of our  top priorities. It is stipulated in the Foreign Policy Concept, which President of Russia Vladimir Putin approved in November 2016. We are grateful to our colleagues from the Russian International Affairs Council (RIAC) and Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS) for organising a regular, sixth joint conference. We regard it as an opportunity to review the current state and development outlook of our bilateral cooperation and its increasing influence on global developments.

This is a special year for us: 20 years ago on July 16, 2001, President of Russia Vladimir Putin and President of China Jiang Zemin met in Moscow to sign the Treaty of Good-Neighbourliness, Friendship and Cooperation. By turning this new page in their relations, the parties demonstrated their resolve to pass their friendship down through the generations. The treaty formalised the previously applied political definition of bilateral relations as “a partnership of (…) equality and trust and strategic collaboration.” In other words, this truly historical international document has put on record the development of a new model of our interstate relations and their progress to a fundamentally new stage.

I would like to note that the Treaty is based on the universally recognised norms of international law, first of all the goals and principles of the UN Charter. It seals the parties’ agreement on mutual support in the defence of the national unity and territorial integrity, as well as their commitment not to be the first to use nuclear weapons against each other and not to target strategic nuclear missiles on each other. The document also formulated the principle of “respecting each other’s choice of the course of political, economic, social and cultural development.” The parties pledged to immediately contact and consult each other in the event of the threat of aggression and not to allow their territory to be used by third countries to the detriment of the national sovereignty, security and territorial integrity of the other party. In this way, Russia and China provided a legal framework for the closest possible collaboration on strategic matters bearing on their fundamental interests without creating a formal military-political alliance. In fact, a comprehensive Russian-Chinese partnership is more than just a classical military-political union.

Another vital provision mentions the absence of any territorial claims to each other and the parties’ resolve “to make the border between them into one where everlasting peace and friendship prevail from generation to generation.” The incorporation of this principle promoted the final settlement of the so-called border dispute and greatly strengthened mutual trust.

Colleagues,

The Treaty played a huge role in boosting mutual trade and economic interaction.  We can report positive results to the public. During the past 20 years, our mutual trade increased more than thirteen times, from $8 billion to $104 billion in 2020. Work is underway within the framework of the Intergovernmental Russian-Chinese Commission on Investment Cooperation on 70 projects worth in total more than $120 billion.

Our energy partnership has acquired a strategic dimension. A Russian-Chinese oil pipeline has been functioning for nearly 10 years now, and the Power of Siberia gas pipeline was launched in late 2019. China is taking part in large-scale LNG projects in the Russian Arctic zone. Just a few days ago, on May 19, President of Russia Vladimir Putin and President of China Xi Jinping launched the construction of four new Russian-designed power units for the Tianwan and Xudapu nuclear power stations in China.

Our industrial and agricultural cooperation is developing constantly. Our interaction in science and innovation is especially important in light of the continued Western attempts to contain our countries’ technological progress. It is for this reason that we are holding the Years of Science, Technology and Innovation in 2020-2021 as part of the successful practice of themed cross-years.

The Treaty also has a great role to play in promoting cultural and humanitarian ties. These activities are helping to maintain the relations of good-neighbourliness and reinforce the social basis of strategic partnership between Russia and China.

Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic has impaired contacts between our citizens. I am sure that, as the epidemiological situation becomes normalised, we will be able to quickly restore and expand them. In our opinion, efforts to promote Russian language studies in China and Chinese language studies in Russia should become an unconditional priority. The same concerns dialogue with young people, who will soon carry on efforts to develop and expand the traditions of Russian-Chinese friendship.

The Treaty, which is ahead of its time in some respects, is not limited to bilateral ties. Its provisions help expand our foreign policy cooperation. Bilateral dialogue is becoming particularly important on the international scene today, when some Western states are trying to demolish the UN-centric system of international law and to replace it with their own rules-based order. Moscow and Beijing consistently advocate the creation of a more equitable, democratic and therefore stable polycentric international order. This system should reflect the cultural and civilisational diversity of the modern world and the natural striving of nations to independently determine their development path. The very fact of the Russian-Chinese accord on this issue serves to stabilise and balance the entire system of international relations. It opens up broad opportunities for truly equitable and free cooperation between large and small countries jointly shaping their historical destiny.

I am satisfied to note the coinciding or largely similar approaches of Moscow and Beijing towards an absolute majority of challenges facing the world today, including efforts to maintain global strategic stability, arms control and counterterrorism operations. We cooperate successfully and fruitfully at such multilateral venues as the UN, the SCO, BRICS, RIC, the G20, APEC and the EAS. We coordinate our steps during the Syrian and Afghan peace processes, the denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula and on the Iranian nuclear programme. Russia and China advocate the peaceful development of the Asia Pacific region and the creation of reliable regional mechanisms for ensuring equal and indivisible security there based on non-bloc approaches.

Today, the Eurasian region is implementing a number of innovative integration projects, including the Eurasian Economic Union and China’s Belt and Road Initiative. Work to combine their potentials has good prospects. Notably, it lays a solid foundation for establishing a new geo-strategic contour of peace, stability and economic prosperity based on principles of international law and transparency on our shared continent from Lisbon to Jakarta. This contour would be open for all countries, including members of the Eurasian Economic Union, the SCO, ASEAN and, in the future, the EU. The initiative of President of the Russian Federation Vladimir Putin on establishing a Greater Eurasian Partnership aims to accomplish this truly historic task. We highly value cooperation with our Chinese friends on its well-coordinated implementation together with the Belt and Road Initiative.

Colleagues,

The Treaty on Good-Neighbourliness and Friendly Cooperation, whose 20th anniversary we are going to mark in July 2021, is an unshakeable foundation of Russian-Chinese relations. We are convinced that it remains a living and working document that makes it possible to expand, finetune and adjust our strategic cooperation in line with the changing realities of the new epoch. This epoch demands that all of us, including experts, diplomats and politicians, always pay attention to new challenges and opportunities, trends and forecasts. Your conference is a good platform for a calm, detailed and professional exchange of opinions and ideas, without which is it is hard to chart the road forward and to determine a joint algorithm of subsequent actions.

Therefore, in conclusion, I would like to wish you fruitful discussions and intellectual insights and revelations for the benefit of strengthening neighbourly relations and friendship between Russia and China.

Thank you.

Putin rewrites the law of the geopolitical jungle

Putin rewrites the law of the geopolitical jungle

April 23, 2021

By Pepe Escobar and first posted at The Saker Blog

Putin’s address to the Russian Federal Assembly – a de facto State of the Nation – was a judo move that left Atlanticist sphere hawks particularly stunned.

The “West” was not even mentioned by name. Only indirectly, or via a delightful metaphor, Kipling’s Jungle Book. Foreign policy was addressed only at the end, almost as an afterthought.

For the best part of an hour and a half, Putin concentrated on domestic issues, detailing a series of policies that amount to the Russian state helping those in need – low income families, children, single mothers, young professionals, the underprivileged – with, for instance, free health checks all the way to the possibility of an universal income in the near future.

Of course he would also need to address the current, highly volatile state of international relations. The concise manner he chose to do it, counter-acting the prevailing Russophobia in the Atlanticist sphere, was quite striking.

First, the essentials. Russia’s policy “is to ensure peace and security for the well-being of our citizens and for the stable development of our country.”

Yet if “someone does not want to…engage in dialogue, but chooses an egoistic and arrogant tone, Russia will always find a way to stand up for its position.”

He singled out “the practice of politically motivated, illegal economic sanctions” to connect it to “something much more dangerous”, and actually rendered invisible in the Western narrative: “the recent attempt to organize a coup d’etat in Belarus and the assassination of that country’s president.” Putin made sure to stress, “all boundaries have been crossed”.

The plot to kill Lukashenko was unveiled by Russian and Belarusian intel – which detained several actors backed, who else, US intel. The US State Department predictably denied any involvement.

Putin: “It is worth pointing to the confessions of the detained participants in the conspiracy that a blockade of Minsk was being prepared, including its city infrastructure and communications, the complete shutdown of the entire power grid of the Belarusian capital. This, incidentally means preparations for a massive cyber-attack.”

And that leads to a very uncomfortable truth: “Apparently, it’s not for no reason that our Western colleagues have stubbornly rejected numerous proposals by the Russian side to establish an international dialogue in the field of information and cyber-security.”

“Asymmetric, swift and harsh”

Putin remarked how to “attack Russia” has become “a sport, a new sport, who makes the loudest statements.” And then he went full Kipling: “Russia is attacked here and there for no reason. And of course, all sorts of petty Tabaquis [jackals] are running around like Tabaqui ran around Shere Khan [the tiger] – everything is like in Kipling’s book – howling along and ready to serve their sovereign. Kipling was a great writer”.

The – layered – metaphor is even more startling as it echoes the late 19th century geopolitical Great Game between the British and Russian empires, of which Kipling was a protagonist.

Once again Putin had to stress that “we really don’t want to burn any bridges. But if someone perceives our good intentions as indifference or weakness and intends to burn those bridges completely or even blow them up, he should know that Russia’s response will be asymmetric, swift and harsh”.

So here’s the new law of the geopolitical jungle – backed by Mr. Iskander, Mr. Kalibr, Mr. Avangard, Mr. Peresvet, Mr. Khinzal, Mr. Sarmat, Mr. Zircon and other well-respected gentlemen, hypersonic and otherwise, later complimented on the record. Those who poke the Bear to the point of threatening “the fundamental interests of our security will regret what has been done, as they have regretted nothing for a very long time.”

The stunning developments of the past few weeks – the China-US Alaska summit, the Lavrov-Wang Yi summit in Guilin, the NATO summit, the Iran-China strategic dealXi Jinping’s speech at the Boao forum – now coalesce into a stark new reality: the era of a unilateral Leviathan imposing its iron will is over.

For those Russophobes who still haven’t got the message, a cool, calm and collected Putin was compelled to add, “clearly, we have enough patience, responsibility, professionalism, self-confidence, self-assurance in the correctness of our position and common sense when it comes to making any decisions. But I hope that no one will think about crossing Russia’s so-called red lines. And where they run, we determine ourselves in each specific case.”

Back to realpolitik, Putin once again had to stress the “special responsibility” of the “five nuclear states” to seriously discuss “issues related to strategic armament”. It’s an open question whether the Biden-Harris administration – behind which stand a toxic cocktail of neo-cons and humanitarian imperialists – will agree.

Putin: “The goal of such negotiations could be to create an environment of conflict-free coexistence based on equal security, covering not only strategic weapons such as intercontinental ballistic missiles, heavy bombers and submarines, but also, I would like to emphasize, all offensive and defensive systems capable of solving strategic tasks, regardless of their equipment.”

As much as Xi’s address to the Boao forum was mostly directed to the Global South, Putin highlighted how “we are expanding contacts with our closest partners in the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, the BRICS, the Commonwealth of Independent States and the allies of the Collective Security Treaty Organization”, and extolled “joint projects in the framework of the Eurasian Economic Union”, billed as “practical tools for solving the problems of national development.”

In a nutshell: integration in effect, following the Russian concept of “Greater Eurasia”.

“Tensions skirting wartime levels”

Now compare all of the above with the White House Executive Order (EO) declaring a “national emergency” to “deal with the Russian threat”.

This is directly connected to President Biden – actually the combo telling him what to do, complete with earpiece and teleprompter – promising Ukraine’s President Zelensky that Washington would “take measures” to support Kiev’s wishful thinking of retaking Donbass and Crimea.

There are several eyebrow-raising issues with this EO. It denies, de facto, to any Russian national the full rights to their US property. Any US resident may be accused of being a Russian agent engaged in undermining US security. A sub-sub paragraph (C), detailing “actions or policies that undermine democratic processes or institutions in the United States or abroad”, is vague enough to be used to eliminate any journalism that supports Russia’s positions in international affairs.

Purchases of Russian OFZ bonds have been sanctioned, as well as one of the companies involved in the production of the Sputnik V vaccine. Yet the icing on this sanction cake may well be that from now on all Russian citizens, including dual citizens, may be barred from entering US territory except via a rare special authorization on top of the ordinary visa.

The Russian paper Vedomosti has noted that in such paranoid atmosphere the risks for large companies such as Yandex or Kaspersky Lab are significantly increasing. Still, these sanctions have not been met with surprise in Moscow. The worst is yet to come, according to Beltway insiders: two packages of sanctions against Nord Stream 2 already approved by the US Department of Justice.

The crucial point is that this EO de facto places anyone reporting on Russia’s political positions as potentially threatening “American democracy”. As top political analyst Alastair Crooke has remarked, this is a “procedure usually reserved for citizens of enemy states during times of war”. Crooke adds, “US hawks are upping the ante fiercely against Moscow. Tensions and rhetoric are skirting wartime levels.”

It’s an open question whether Putin’s State of the Nation will be seriously examined by the toxic lunatic combo of neocons and humanitarian imperialists bent on simultaneously harassing Russia and China.

But the fact is something extraordinary has already started to happen: a “de-escalation” of sorts.

Even before Putin’s address, Kiev, NATO and the Pentagon apparently got the message implicit in Russia moving two armies, massive artillery batteries and airborne divisions to the borders of Donbass and to Crimea – not to mention top naval assets moved from the Caspian to the Black Sea. NATO could not even dream of matching that.

Facts on different grounds speak volumes. Both Paris and Berlin were terrified of a possible Kiev clash directly against Russia, and lobbied furiously against it, bypassing the EU and NATO.

Then someone – it might have been Jake Sullivan – must have whispered on Crash Test Dummy’s earpiece that you don’t go around insulting the head of a nuclear state and expect to keep your global “credibility”. So after that by now famous “Biden” phone call to Putin came the invitation to the climate change summit, in which any lofty promises are largely rhetorical, as the Pentagon will continue to be the largest polluting entity on planet Earth.

So Washington may have found a way to keep at least one avenue of dialogue open with Moscow. At the same time Moscow has no illusions whatsoever that the Ukraine/Donbass/Crimea drama is over. Even if Putin did not mention it in the State of the Nation. And even if Defense Minister Shoigu has ordered a de-escalation.

The always inestimable Andrei Martyanov has gleefully noted the “cultural shock when Brussels and D.C. started to suspect that Russia doesn’t ‘want’ Ukraine. What Russia wants is for this country to rot and implode without excrement from this implosion hitting Russia. West’s paying for the clean up of this clusterf**k is also in Russian plans for Ukrainian Bantustan.”

The fact that Putin did not even mention Bantustan in his speech corroborates this analysis. As far as “red lines” are concerned, Putin’s implicit message remains the same: a NATO base on Russia’s western flank simply won’t be tolerated. Paris and Berlin know it. The EU is in denial. NATO will always refuse to admit it.

We always come back to the same crucial issue: whether Putin will be able, against all odds, to pull a combined Bismarck-Sun Tzu move and build a lasting German-Russian entente cordiale (and that’s quite far from an “alliance’). Nord Stream 2 is an essential cog in the wheel – and that’s what’s driving Washington hawks crazy.

Whatever happens next, for all practical purposes Iron Curtain 2.0 is now on, and it simply won’t go away. There will be more sanctions. Everything was thrown at the Bear short of a hot war. It will be immensely entertaining to watch how, and via which steps, Washington will engage on a “de-escalation and diplomatic process” with Russia.

The Hegemon may always find a way to deploy a massive P.R. campaign and ultimately claim a diplomatic success in “dissolving” the impasse. Well, that certainly beats a hot war. Otherwise, lowly Jungle Book adventurers have been advised: try anything funny and be ready to meet “asymmetric, swift and harsh”.

Putin, crusaders and barbarians

February 27, 2021

Putin, crusaders and barbarians

By Pepe Escobar and first posted at Asia Times

Moscow is painfully aware that the US/NATO “strategy” of containment of Russia is already reaching fever pitch. Again.

This past Wednesday, at a very important meeting with the Federal Security Service board, President Putin laid it all out in stark terms:

We are up against the so-called policy of containing Russia. This is not about competition, which is a natural thing for international relations. This is about a consistent and quite aggressive policy aimed at disrupting our development, slowing it down, creating problems along the outer perimeter, triggering domestic instability, undermining the values that unite Russian society, and ultimately to weaken Russia and put it under external control, just the way we are witnessing it transpire in some countries in the post-Soviet space.

Not without a touch of wickedness, Putin added this was no exaggeration: “In fact, you don’t need to be convinced of this as you yourselves know it perfectly well, perhaps even better than anybody else.”

The Kremlin is very much aware “containment” of Russia focuses on its perimeter: Ukraine, Georgia and Central Asia. And the ultimate target remains regime change.

Putin’s remarks may also be interpreted as an indirect answer to a section of President Biden’s speech at the Munich Security Conference.

According to Biden’s scriptwriters,

Putin seeks to weaken the European project and the NATO alliance because it is much easier for the Kremlin to intimidate individual countries than to negotiate with the united transatlantic community … The Russian authorities want others to think that our system is just as corrupt or even more corrupt.

A clumsy, direct personal attack against the head of state of a major nuclear power does not exactly qualify as sophisticated diplomacy. At least it glaringly shows how trust between Washington and Moscow is now reduced to less than zero. As much as Biden’s Deep State handlers refuse to see Putin as a worthy negotiating partner, the Kremlin and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs have already dismissed Washington as “non-agreement capable.”

Once again, this is all about sovereignty. The “unfriendly attitude towards Russia,” as Putin defined it, extends to “other independent, sovereign centers of global development.” Read it as mainly China and Iran. All these three sovereign states happen to be categorized as top “threats” by the US National Security Strategy.

Yet Russia is the real nightmare for the Exceptionalists: Orthodox Christian, thus appealing to swaths of the West; consolidated as major Eurasian power; a military, hypersonic superpower; and boasting unrivaled diplomatic skills, appreciated all across the Global South.

In contrast, there’s not much left for the deep state except endlessly demonizing both Russia and China to justify a Western military build-up, the “logic” inbuilt in a new strategic concept named  NATO 2030: United for a New Era.

The experts behind the concept hailed it as an “implicit” response to French President Emmanuel Macron’s declaring NATO “brain dead.”

Well, at least the concept proves Macron was right.

Those barbarians from the East

Crucial questions about sovereignty and Russian identity have been a recurrent theme in Moscow these past few weeks. And that brings us to February 17, when Putin met with Duma political leaders, from the Liberal Democratic Party’s Vladimir Zhirinovsky – enjoying a new popularity surge – to United Russia’s Sergei Mironov, as well as State Duma speaker Vyacheslav Volodin.

Putin stressed the “multi-ethnic and multi-religious” character of Russia, now in “a different environment that is free of ideology”:

It is important for all ethnic groups, even the smallest ones, to know that this is their Motherland with no other for them, that they are protected here and are prepared to lay down their lives in order to protect this country. This is in the interests of us all, regardless of ethnicity, including the Russian people.

Yet Putin’s most extraordinary remark had to do with ancient Russian history:

Barbarians came from the East and destroyed the Christian Orthodox empire. But before the barbarians from the East, as you well know, the crusaders came from the West and weakened this Orthodox Christian empire, and only then were the last blows dealt, and it was conquered. This is what happened … We must remember these historical events and never forget them.

Well, this could be enough material to generate a 1,000-page treatise. Instead, let’s try, at least, to – concisely – unpack it.

The Great Eurasian Steppe – one of the largest geographical formations on the planet – stretches from the lower Danube all the way to the Yellow River. The running joke across Eurasia is that “Keep Walking” can be performed back to back. For most of recorded history this has been Nomad Central: tribe upon tribe raiding at the margins, or sometimes at the hubs of the heartland: China, Iran, the  Mediterranean.

The Scythians (see, for instance, the magisterial The Scythians: Nomad Warriors of the Steppe, by Barry Cunliffe) arrived at the Pontic steppe from beyond the Volga. After the Scythians, it was the turn of the Sarmatians to show up in South Russia.

From the 4th century onward, nomad Eurasia was a vortex of marauding tribes, featuring, among others, the Huns in the 4th and 5th centuries, the Khazars in the 7th century, the Kumans in the 11th century, all the way to the Mongol avalanche in the 13th century.

The plot line always pitted nomads against peasants. Nomads ruled – and exacted tribute. G Vernadsky, in his invaluable Ancient Russia, shows how “the Scythian Empire may be described sociologically as a domination of the nomadic horde over neighboring tribes of agriculturists.”

As part of my multi-pronged research on nomad empires for a future volume, I call them Badass Barbarians on Horseback. The stars of the show include, in Europe, in chronological order, Cimmerians, Scythians, Sarmatians, Huns, Khazars, Hungarians, Peshenegs, Seljuks, Mongols and their Tatar descendants; and, in Asia, Hu, Xiongnu, Hephtalites, Turks, Uighurs, Tibetans, Kirghiz, Khitan, Mongols, Turks (again), Uzbeks and Manchu.

Arguably, since the hegemonic Scythian era (the first protagonists of the Silk Road), most of the peasants in southern and central Russia were Slav. But there were major differences. The Slavs west of Kiev were under the influence of Germania and Rome. East of Kiev, they were influenced by Persian civilization.

It’s always important to remember that the Vikings were still nomads when they became rulers in Slav lands. Their civilization in fact prevailed over sedentary peasants – even as they absorbed many of their customs.

Interestingly enough, the gap between steppe nomads and agriculture in proto-Russia was not as steep as between intensive agriculture in China and the interlocked steppe economy in Mongolia.

(For an engaging Marxist interpretation of nomadism, see A N Khazanov’s Nomads and the Outside World).

The sheltering sky

What about power? For Turk and Mongol nomads, who came centuries after the Scythians, power emanated from the sky. The Khan ruled by authority of the “Eternal Sky” – as we all see when we delve into the adventures of Genghis and Kublai. By implication, as there is only one sky, the Khan would have to exert universal power. Welcome to the idea of universal empire.

Kublai Khan as the first Yuan emperor, Shizu. Yuan dynasty (1271–1368). Album leaf, ink and color on silk. National Palace Museum, Taipei. Photo: Wikimedia Commons/National Palace Museum, Taipei

In Persia, things were slightly more complex. The Persian Empire   was all about Sun worship: that became the conceptual basis for the divine right of the King of Kings. The implications were immense, as the King now became sacred. This model influenced Byzantium – which, after all, was always interacting with Persia.

Christianity made the Kingdom of Heaven more important than ruling over the temporal domain. Still, the idea of Universal Empire persisted, incarnated in the concept of Pantocrator: it was the Christ who ultimately ruled, and his deputy on earth was the Emperor. But Byzantium remained a very special case: the Emperor could never be an equal to God. After all, he was human.

Putin is certainly very much aware that the Russian case is extremely complex. Russia essentially is on the margins of three civilizations. It’s part of Europe – reasons including everything from the ethnic origin of Slavs to achievements in history, music and literature.

Russia is also part of Byzantium from a religious and artistic angle (but not part of the subsequent Ottoman empire, with which it was in military competition). And Russia was influenced by Islam coming from Persia.

Then there’s the crucial influence of nomads. A serious case can be made that they have been neglected by scholars. The Mongol rule for a century and a half, of course, is part of the official historiography – but perhaps not given its due importance. And the nomads in southern and central Russia two millennia ago were never properly acknowledged.

So Putin may have hit a nerve. What he said points to the idealization of a later period of Russian history from the late 9th to early 13th century: Kievan Rus. In Russia, 19th century Romanticism and 20th century nationalism actively built an idealized national identity.

The interpretation of Kievan Rus poses tremendous problems – that’s something I eagerly discussed in St. Petersburg a few years ago. There are rare literary sources – and they concentrate mostly on the 12th century afterwards. The earlier sources are foreigners, mostly Persians and Arabs.

Russian conversion to Christianity and its concomitant superb architecture have been interpreted as evidence of a high cultural standard. In a nutshell, scholars ended up using Western Europe as the model for the reconstruction of Kievan Rus civilization.

It was never so simple. A good example is the discrepancy between Novgorod and Kiev. Novgorod was closer to the Baltic than the Black Sea, and had closer interaction with Scandinavia and the Hanseatic towns. Compare it with Kiev, which was closer to steppe nomads and  Byzantium – not to mention Islam.

Kievan Rus was a fascinating crossover. Nomadic tribal traditions – on administration, taxes, the justice system – were prevalent. But on religion, they imitated Byzantium. It’s also relevant that until the end of the 12th century, assorted steppe nomads were a constant “threat” to southeast Kievan Rus.

So as much as Byzantium – and, later on, even the Ottoman Empire – supplied models for Russian institutions, the fact is the nomads, starting with the Scythians, influenced the economy, the social system and most of all, the military approach.

Watch the Khan

Sima Qian, the master Chinese historian, has shown how the Khan had two “kings,” who each had two generals, and thus in succession, all the way to commanders of a hundred, a thousand and ten thousand men. This is essentially the same system used for a millennia and a half by nomads, from the Scythians to the Mongols, all the way to Tamerlane’s army at the end of the 14th century.

The Mongol invasions – 1221 and then 1239-1243 – were indeed the major game-changer. As master analyst Sergei Karaganov told me in his office in late 2018, they influenced Russian society for centuries afterwards.

For over 200 years Russian princes had to visit the Mongol headquarters in the Volga to pay tribute. One scholarly strand has qualified it as “barbarization”; that seems to be Putin’s view. According to that strand, the incorporation of Mongol values may have “reversed” Russian society to what it was before the first drive to adopt Christianity.

The inescapable conclusion is that when Muscovy emerged in the late 15th century as the dominant power in Russia, it was essentially the successor of the Mongols.

And because of that the peasantry – the sedentary population – were not touched by “civilization” (time to re-read Tolstoy?). Nomad Power and values, as strong as they were, survived Mongol rule for centuries.

Well, if a moral can be derived from our short parable, it’s not exactly a good idea for “civilized” NATO to pick a fight with the – lateral – heirs of the Great Khan.

Why Russia is driving the West crazy

Why Russia is driving the West crazy

February 10, 2021

by Pepe Escobar with permission and first posted on Asia Times

Future historians may register it as the day when usually unflappable Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov decided he had had enough:

We are getting used to the fact that the European Union are trying to impose unilateral restrictions, illegitimate restrictions and we proceed from the assumption at this stage that the European Union is an unreliable partner.

Josep Borrell, the EU foreign policy chief, on an official visit to Moscow, had to take it on the chin.

Lavrov, always the perfect gentleman, added, “I hope that the strategic review that will take place soon will focus on the key interests of the European Union and that these talks will help to make our contacts more constructive.”

He was referring to the EU heads of state and government’s summit at the European Council next month, where they will discuss Russia. Lavrov harbors no illusions the “unreliable partners” will behave like adults.

Yet something immensely intriguing can be found in Lavrov’s opening remarks in his meeting with Borrell: “The main problem we all face is the lack of normalcy in relations between Russia and the European Union – the two largest players in the Eurasian space. It is an unhealthy situation, which does not benefit anyone.”

The two largest players in the Eurasian space (italics mine). Let that sink in. We’ll be back to it in a moment.

As it stands, the EU seems irretrievably addicted to worsening the “unhealthy situation”. European Commission head Ursula von der Leyen memorably botched the Brussels vaccine game. Essentially, she sent Borrell to Moscow to ask for licensing rights for European firms to produce the Sputnik V vaccine – which will soon be approved by the EU.

And yet Eurocrats prefer to dabble in hysteria, promoting the antics of NATO asset and convicted fraudster Navalny – the Russian Guaido.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the Atlantic, under the cover of “strategic deterrence”, the head of the US STRATCOM, Admiral Charles Richard, casually let it slip that “there is a real possibility that a regional crisis with Russia or China could escalate quickly to a conflict involving nuclear weapons, if they perceived a conventional loss would threaten the regime or state.”

So the blame for the next – and final – war is already apportioned to the “destabilizing” behavior of Russia and China. It’s assumed they will be “losing” – and then, in a fit of rage, will go nuclear. The Pentagon will be no more than a victim; after all, claims Mr. STRATCOM, we are not “stuck in the Cold War”.

STRATCOM planners could do worse than read crack military analyst Andrei Martyanov, who for years has been on the forefront detailing how the new hypersonic paradigm – and not nuclear weapons – has changed the nature of warfare.

After a detailed technical discussion, Martyanov shows how “the United States simply has no good options currently. None. The less bad option, however, is to talk to Russians and not in terms of geopolitical BS and wet dreams that the United States, somehow, can convince Russia “to abandon” China – US has nothing, zero, to offer Russia to do so. But at least Russians and Americans may finally settle peacefully this “hegemony” BS between themselves and then convince China to finally sit as a Big Three at the table and finally decide how to run the world. This is the only chance for the US to stay relevant in the new world.”

The Golden Horde imprint

As much as the chances are negligible of the EU getting a grip on the “unhealthy situation” with Russia, there’s no evidence what Martyanov outlined will be contemplated by the US Deep State.

The path ahead seems ineluctable: perpetual sanctions; perpetual NATO expansion alongside Russia’s borders; the build up of a ring of hostile states around Russia; perpetual US interference on Russian internal affairs – complete with an army of fifth columnists; perpetual, full spectrum information war.

Lavrov is increasingly making it crystal clear that Moscow expects nothing else. Facts on the ground, though, will keep accumulating.

Nordstream 2 will be finished – sanctions or no sanctions – and will supply much needed natural gas to Germany and the EU. Convicted fraudster Navalny – 1% of real “popularity” in Russia – will remain in jail. Citizens across the EU will get Sputnik V. The Russia-China strategic partnership will continue to solidify.

To understand how we have come to this unholy Russophobic mess, an essential road map is provided by Russian Conservatism , an exciting, new political philosophy study by Glenn Diesen, associate professor at University of Southeastern Norway, lecturer at Moscow’s Higher School of Economics, and one of my distinguished interlocutors in Moscow.

Diesen starts focusing on the essentials: geography, topography and history. Russia is a vast land power without enough access to the seas. Geography, he argues, conditions the foundations of “conservative policies defined by autocracy, an ambiguous and complex concept of nationalism, and the enduring role of the Orthodox Church” – something that implies resistance to “radical secularism”.

It’s always crucial to remember that Russia has no natural defensible borders; it has been invaded or occupied by Swedes, Poles, Lithuanians, the Mongol Golden Horde, Crimean Tatars and Napoleon. Not to mention the immensely bloody Nazi invasion.

What’s in a word? Everything: “security”, in Russian, is byezopasnost. That happens to be a negative, as byez means “without” and opasnost means “danger”.

Russia’s complex, unique historical make-up always presented serious problems. Yes, there was close affinity with the Byzantine empire. But if Russia “claimed transfer of imperial authority from Constantinople it would be forced to conquer it.” And to claim the successor, role and heritage of the Golden Horde would relegate Russia to the status of an Asiatic power only.

On the Russian path to modernization, the Mongol invasion provoked not only a geographical schism, but left its imprint on politics: “Autocracy became a necessity following the Mongol legacy and the establishment of Russia as an Eurasian empire with a vast and poorly connected geographical expanse”.

“A colossal East West”

Russia is all about East meets West. Diesen reminds us how Nikolai Berdyaev, one of the leading 20th century conservatives, already nailed it in 1947: “The inconsistency and complexity of the Russian soul may be due to the fact that in Russia two streams of world history – East and West – jostle and influence one another (…) Russia is a complete section of the world – a colossal East West.”

The Trans-Siberian railroad, built to solidify the internal cohesion of the Russian empire and to project power in Asia, was a major game-changer: “With Russian agricultural settlements expanding to the east, Russia was increasingly replacing the ancient roads who had previously controlled and connected Eurasia.”

It’s fascinating to watch how the development of Russian economics ended up on Mackinder’s Heartland theory – according to which control of the world required control of the Eurasian supercontinent. What terrified Mackinder is that Russian railways connecting Eurasia would undermine the whole power structure of Britain as a maritime empire.

Diesen also shows how Eurasianism – emerging in the 1920s among émigrés in response to 1917 – was in fact an evolution of Russian conservatism.

Eurasianism, for a number of reasons, never became a unified political movement. The core of Eurasianism is the notion that Russia was not a mere Eastern European state. After the 13th century Mongol invasion and the 16th century conquest of Tatar kingdoms, Russia’s history and geography could not be only European. The future would require a more balanced approach – and engagement with Asia.

Dostoyevsky had brilliantly framed it ahead of anyone, in 1881:

Russians are as much Asiatics as European. The mistake of our policy for the past two centuries has been to make the people of Europe believe that we are true Europeans. We have served Europe too well, we have taken too great a part in her domestic quarrels (…) We have bowed ourselves like slaves before the Europeans and have only gained their hatred and contempt. It is time to turn away from ungrateful Europe. Our future is in Asia.

Lev Gumilev was arguably the superstar among a new generation of Eurasianists. He argued that Russia had been founded on a natural coalition between Slavs, Mongols and Turks. The Ancient Rus and the Great Steppe, published in 1989, had an immense impact in Russia after the fall of the USSR – as I learned first hand from my Russian hosts when I arrived in Moscow via the Trans-Siberian in the winter of 1992.

As Diesen frames it, Gumilev was offering a sort of third way, beyond European nationalism and utopian internationalism. A Lev Gumilev University has been established in Kazakhstan. Putin has referred to Gumilev as “the great Eurasian of our time”.

Diesen reminds us that even George Kennan, in 1994, recognized the conservative struggle for “this tragically injured and spiritually diminished country”. Putin, in 2005, was way sharper. He stressed,

the collapse of the Soviet Union was the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the century. And for the Russian people, it was a real drama (…) The old ideals were destroyed. Many institutions were disbanded or simply hastily reformed…With unrestricted control over information flows, groups of oligarchs served exclusively their own corporate interests. Mass poverty started to be accepted as the norm. All this evolved against a background of the most severe economic recession, unstable finances and paralysis in the social sphere.

Applying “sovereign democracy”

And so we reach the crucial European question.

In the 1990s, led by Atlanticists, Russian foreign policy was focused on Greater Europe, a concept based on Gorbachev’s Common European Home.

And yet post-Cold War Europe, in practice, ended up configured as the non-stop expansion of NATO and the birth – and expansion – of the EU. All sorts of liberal contortionisms were deployed to include all of Europe while excluding Russia.

Diesen has the merit of summarizing the whole process in a single sentence: “The new liberal Europe represented a British-American continuity in terms of the rule of maritime powers, and Mackinder’s objective to organize the German-Russian relationship in a zero-sum format to prevent the alignment of interests”.

No wonder Putin, subsequently, had to be erected as the Supreme Scarecrow, or “the new Hitler”. Putin rejected outright the role for Russia of mere apprentice to Western civilization – and its corollary, (neo) liberal hegemony.

Still, he remained quite accommodating. In 2005, Putin stressed, “above all else Russia was, is and will, of course, be a major European power”. What he wanted was to decouple liberalism from power politics – by rejecting the fundamentals of liberal hegemony.

Putin was saying there’s no single democratic model. That was eventually conceptualized as “sovereign democracy”. Democracy cannot exist without sovereignty; so that discards Western “supervision” to make it work.

Diesen sharply observes that if the USSR was a “radical, left-wing Eurasianism, some of its Eurasian characteristics could be transferred to conservative Eurasianism.” Diesen notes how Sergey Karaganov, sometimes referred to as the “Russian Kissinger”, has shown “that the Soviet Union was central to decolonization and it mid-wifed the rise of Asia by depriving the West of the ability to impose its will on the world through military force, which the West had done from the 16th century until the 1940s”.

This is largely acknowledged across vast stretches of the Global South – from Latin America and Africa to Southeast Asia.

Eurasia’s western peninsula

So after the end of the Cold War and the failure of Greater Europe, Moscow’s pivot to Asia to build Greater Eurasia could not but have an air of historical inevitability.

The logic is impeccable. The two geoeconomic hubs of Eurasia are Europe and East Asia. Moscow wants to connect them economically into a supercontinent: that’s where Greater Eurasia joins China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). But then there’s the extra Russian dimension, as Diesen notes: the “transition away from the usual periphery of these centers of power and towards the center of a new regional construct”.

From a conservative perspective, emphasizes Diesen, “the political economy of Greater Eurasia enables Russia to overcome its historical obsession with the West and establish an organic Russian path to modernization”.

That implies the development of strategic industries; connectivity corridors; financial instruments; infrastructure projects to connect European Russia with Siberia and Pacific Russia. All that under a new concept: an industrialized, conservative political economy.

The Russia-China strategic partnership happens to be active in all these three geoeconomic sectors: strategic industries/techno platforms, connectivity corridors and financial instruments.

That propels the discussion, once again, to the supreme categorical imperative: the confrontation between the Heartland and a maritime power.

The three great Eurasian powers, historically, were the Scythians, the Huns and the Mongols. The key reason for their fragmentation and decadence is that they were not able to reach – and control – Eurasia’s maritime borders.

The fourth great Eurasian power was the Russian empire – and its successor, the USSR. A key reason the USSR collapsed is because, once gain, it was not able to reach – and control – Eurasia’s maritime borders.

The US prevented it by applying a composite of Mackinder, Mahan and Spykman. The US strategy even became known as the Spykman-Kennan containment mechanism – all these “forward deployments” in the maritime periphery of Eurasia, in Western Europe, East Asia and the Middle East.

We all know by now how the overall US offshore strategy – as well as the primary reason for the US to enter both WWI and WWII – was to prevent the emergence of a Eurasian hegemon by all means necessary.

As for the US as hegemon, that would be crudely conceptualized – with requisite imperial arrogance – by Dr. Zbig “Grand Chessboard” Brzezinski in 1997: “To prevent collusion and maintain security dependence among the vassals, to keep tributaries pliant and protected, and keep the barbarians from coming together”. Good old Divide and Rule, applied via “system-dominance”.

It’s this system that is now tumbling down – much to the despair of the usual suspects. Diesen notes how, “in the past, pushing Russia into Asia would relegate Russia to economic obscurity and eliminate its status as a European power.” But now, with the center of geoeconomic gravity shifting to China and East Asia, it’s a whole new ball game.

The 24/7 US demonization of Russia-China, coupled with the “unhealthy situation” mentality of the EU minions, only helps to drive Russia closer and closer to China exactly at the juncture where the West’s two centuries-only world dominance, as Andre Gunder Frank conclusively proved , is coming to an end.

Diesen, perhaps too diplomatically, expects that “relations between Russia and the West will also ultimately change with the rise of Eurasia. The West’s hostile strategy to Russia is conditioned on the idea that Russia has nowhere else to go, and must accept whatever the West offers in terms of “partnership”. The rise of the East fundamentally alters Moscow’s relationship with the West by enabling Russia to diversify its partnerships”.

We may be fast approaching the point where Great Eurasia’s Russia will present Germany with a take it or leave it offer. Either we build the Heartland together, or we will build it with China – and you will be just a historical bystander. Of course there’s always the inter-galaxy distant possibility of a Berlin-Moscow-Beijing axis. Stranger things have happened.

Meanwhile, Diesen is confident that “the Eurasian land powers will eventually incorporate Europe and other states on the inner periphery of Eurasia. Political loyalties will incrementally shift as economic interests turn to the East, and Europe is gradually becoming the western peninsula of Greater Eurasia”.

Talk about food for thought for the peninsular peddlers of the “unhealthy situation”.

Turkey pivots to the center of The New Great Game

Turkey pivots to the center of The New Great Game

December 28, 2020

by Pepe Escobar with permission and first posted at Asia Times

When it comes to sowing – and profiting – from division, Erdogan’s Turkey is quite the superstar.

Under the delightfully named Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA), the Trump administration duly slapped sanctions on Ankara for daring to buy Russian S-400 surface-to-air missile defence systems. The sanctions focused on Turkey’s defence procurement agency, the SSB.

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu’s response was swift: Ankara won’t back down – and it is in fact mulling how to respond.

The European poodles inevitably had to provide the follow-up. So after the proverbial, interminable debate in Brussels, they settled for “limited” sanctions – adding a further list for a summit in March 2021. Yet these sanctions actually focus on as-yet unidentified individuals involved in offshore drilling in Cyprus and Greece. They have nothing to do with S-400s.

What the EU has come up with is in fact a very ambitious, global human-rights sanctions regime modeled after the US’s Magnitsky Act. That implies travel bans and asset freezes of people unilaterally considered responsible for genocide, torture, extrajudicial killings and crimes against humanity.

Turkey, in this case, is just a guinea pig. The EU always hesitates mightily when it comes to sanctioning a NATO member. What the Eurocrats in Brussels really want is an extra, powerful tool to harass mostly China and Russia.

Our jihadis, sorry, “moderate rebels”

What’s fascinating is that Ankara under Erdogan always seems to be exhibiting a sort of “devil may care” attitude.

Take the seemingly insoluble situation in the Idlib cauldron in northwest Syria. Jabhat al-Nusra – a.k.a. al-Qaeda in Syria – honchos are now involved in “secret” negotiations with Turkish-backed armed gangs, such as Ahrar al-Sharqiya, right in front of Turkish officials. The objective: to boost the number of jihadis concentrated in certain key areas. The bottom line: a large number of these will come from Jabhat al-Nusra.

So Ankara for all practical purposes remains fully behind hardcore jihadis in northwest Syria – disguised under the “innocent” brand Hayat Tahrir al-Sham. Ankara has absolutely no interest in letting these people disappear. Moscow, of course, is fully aware of these shenanigans, but wily Kremlin and Defence Ministry strategists prefer to let it roll for the time being, assuming the Astana process shared by Russia, Iran and Turkey can be somewhat fruitful.

Erdogan, at the same time, masterfully plays the impression that he’s totally involved in pivoting towards Moscow. He’s effusive that “his Russian colleague Vladimir Putin” supports the idea – initially tabled by Azerbaijan – of a regional security platform uniting Russia, Turkey, Iran, Azerbaijan, Georgia and Armenia. Erdogan even said that if Yerevan is part of this mechanism, “a new page may be opened” in so far intractable Turkey-Armenia relations.

It will help, of course, that even under Putin pre-eminence, Erdogan will have a very important seat at the table of this putative security organization.

The Big Picture is even more fascinating – because it lays out various aspects of Putin’s Eurasia balancing strategy, which involves as main players Russia, China, Iran, Turkey and Pakistan.

On the eve of the first anniversary of the assassination of Gen Soleimani, Tehran is far from cowed and “isolated”. For all practical purposes, it is slowly but surely forcing the US out of Iraq. Iran’s diplomatic and military links to Iraq, Syria and Lebanon remain solid.

And with less US troops in Afghanistan, the fact is Iran for the first time since the “axis of evil” era will be less surrounded by the Pentagon. Both Russia and China – the key nodes of Eurasia integration – fully approve it.

Of course the Iranian rial has collapsed against the US dollar, and oil income has fallen from over $100 billion a year to something like $7 billion. But non-oil exports are going well over $30 billion a year.

All is about to change for the better. Iran is building an ultra-strategic pipeline from the eastern part of the Persian Gulf to the port of Jask in the Gulf of Oman – bypassing the Strait of Hormuz, and ready to export up to 1 million barrels of oil a day. China will be the top customer.

President Rouhani said the pipeline will be ready by the summer of 2021, adding that Iran plans to be selling over 2.3 million barrels of oil a day next year – with or without US sanctions alleviated by Biden-Harris.

Watch the Golden Ring

Iran is well linked to Turkey to the west and Central Asia to the east. An extra important element in the chessboard is the entrance of freight trains directly linking Turkey to China via Central Asia -bypassing Russia.

Earlier this month, the first freight train left Istanbul for a 8,693 km, 12-day trip, crossing below the Bosphorus via the brand new Marmary tunnel, inaugurated a year ago, then along the East-West Middle Corridor via the Baku-Tbilisi-Kars (BTK) railway, across Georgia, Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan.

In Turkey this is known as the Silk Railway. It was the BTK that reduced freight transport from Turkey to China from one month to only 12 days. The whole route from East Asia to Western Europe can now be travelled in only 18 days. BTK is the key node of the so-called Middle Corridor from Beijing to London and the Iron Silk Road from Kazakhstan to Turkey.

All of the above totally fits the EU’s agenda – especially Germany’s: implementing a strategic trade corridor linking the EU to China, bypassing Russia.

This would eventually lead to one of the key alliances to be consolidated in the Raging Twenties: Berlin-Beijing.

To speed up this putative alliance, the talk in Brussels is that Eurocrats would profit from Turkmen nationalism, pan-Turkism and the recent entente cordiale between Erdogan and Xi when it comes to the Uighurs. But there’s a problem: many a turcophone tribe prefers an alliance with Russia.

Moreover, Russia is inescapable when it comes to other corridors. Take, for instance, a flow of Japanese goods going to Vladivostok and then via the Trans-Siberian to Moscow and onwards to the EU.

The bypass-Russia EU strategy was not exactly a hit in Armenia-Azerbaijan: what we had was a relative Turkey retreat and a de facto Russian victory, with Moscow reinforcing its military position in the Caucasus.

Enter an even more interesting gambit: the Azerbaijan-Pakistan strategic partnership, now on overdrive in trade, defence, energy, science and technology, and agriculture. Islamabad, incidentally, supported Baku on Nagorno-Karabakh.

Both Azerbaijan and Pakistan have very good relations with Turkey: a matter of very complex, interlocking Turk-Persian cultural heritage.

And they may get even closer, with the International North-South Transportation Corridor (INTSC) increasingly connecting not only Islamabad to Baku but also both to Moscow.

Thus the extra dimension of the new security mechanism proposed by Baku uniting Russia, Turkey, Iran, Azerbaijan, Georgia and Armenia: all the Top Four here want closer ties with Pakistan.

Analyst Andrew Korybko has neatly dubbed it the “Golden Ring” – a new dimension to Central Eurasian integration featuring Russia, China, Iran, Pakistan, Turkey, Azerbaijan and the central Asian “stans”. So this all goes way beyond a possible Triple Entente: Berlin-Ankara-Beijing.

What’s certain as it stands is that the all-important Berlin-Moscow relationship is bound to remain as cold as ice. Norwegian analyst Glenn Diesen summed it all up: “The German-Russian partnership for Greater Europe was replaced with the Chinese-Russian partnership for Greater Eurasia”.

What’s also certain is that Erdogan, a master of pivoting, will find ways to simultaneously profit from both Germany and Russia.

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