I don’t have time to write extensively on Putin’s historic trip to Iran. Plus there are many others who are more versed in Russian-Iranian relations and the geopolitical significance of Putin’s trip. So with that in mind and a dissertation chapter deadline hanging over my head, I offer Juan Cole’s take on it. His post is significant because it provides the entire text of Putin’s and Admadinejad’s joint statement. I also recommend Farideh Farhi’s post on the Informed Comment Global Affairs Blog for what the Russian visit means for Tehran.
It’s clear that if there were any diplomatic victories achieved in the meeting, they were all Iran’s. With Putin backing the Islamic nation’s assertions that its nuclear program is “peaceful” basically confirmed that if Washington is looking for partners to put the hard squeeze on Iran, Russia isn’t one of them.
For Russia, the trip is a reaffirmation that Russia will seek its own independent foreign policy. And ironically Putin came out somewhat like a peacemaker with his stress in dialog with Iran rather than sanctions. He stressed this last night during his annual question and answer session with the public. “Direct dialog with the leaders of states around which certain problems accumulate is always more productive and is the shortest path to success, rather than a policy of threats, sanctions, and all the more so resolution by using force,” he said.
That wasn’t the only blow to US prospects waging war against Iran. The attendees at the Caspian Sea Summit, which included Russia’s President Vladimir Putin, Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Kazakhstan’s President Nursultan Nazarbayev, Turkmenistan’s President Kurbanguly Berdymukhamedov and Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev, made a declaration that said “under any circumstances they would not allow other countries to use their territory for aggression and military attack against one of the parties.”
Welcome to the Great Game of the 21st Century.
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By Sean — 3 years ago
The consensus around Russia’s ban of food imports from the US and EU is that Russia is only hurting itself. As a NY Times editorial, aptly named “Russia Sanctions Itself,” stated, “No doubt many producers in these countries will feel the loss of $30 billion in food exports to Russia, but the overall effect on their large and diversified economies will be marginal. Russia, by contrast, imports about 40 percent of its food needs in terms of value, and the Russian agriculture minister has acknowledged that the sanctions would cause a spike in inflation.” If this is the case, then what’s Putin’s strategy behind the food ban?
Writing in Slon, Maksim Samorukov takes a stab at Putin’s possible strategy. In 2013, the EU exported 10.5 billion euros of food to Russia, about 10 percent of its total agricultural exports, making it the second largest market after the US. It’s a growing market, Samorukov states, because Russia imports three times more from Europe than it did ten years ago. Moreover, these exports are important to balance trade in Russian oil and gas. Nevertheless, 10.5 billion euros doesn’t seem like a lot when spread over 28 EU countries. Nevertheless, some countries will be more affected than others as this chart shows.
And this is perhaps what Putin is banking on. Europe’s agricultural lobby will put pressure on their governments and countries like Spain, which has the most to lose with Russia’s food ban, will break the solidarity of the EU. It’s wishful thinking, for sure, but here’s what Samorukov argues:
- The food ban will hit European farmers, and their discontent might force governments to weaken their resolve. Samorukov writes, “Farmers in Europe are very organized people, with extensive experience in lobbying and a tradition of organizing mass demonstrations at the slightest threat to their welfare. You can always find a group of fishermen or peasants at the official European Union buildings in Brussels expressing their indignation at the next food policy. And if it comes to any major changes in agricultural policy, then there is bound to be a crowd of many thousands. . .” Moreover, these farmers will have the sympathy of the population, adding to the political pressue. Putin is essentially counting on European democracy to work in his favor.
- The EU’s pocket book is squeezed on both sides. There’s the “pampered” farmers in western Europe that refuse to accept any reduction of agricultural subsidies on one side, and the poorer famers from eastern Europe on the other. Until now, according to Samorukov, famers in the east were getting fewer subsidies than their counterparts in the west. But now the EU will have to pay those famers equally to alleviate the pain of the Russian food ban. “A unified EU budget, where agrarian subsidies make up almost half of expenses, cannot support such a burden.” Putin, therefore, is hoping that the EU financial woes will play to his advantage as well.
Russian ban on European food seems to have been invented in the hope to take advantage of these difficulties in the EU’s agricultural sector and try to split the unity of the Union. For example, the countries of southern Europe, that have little enthusiasm for sanctions against Russia, joined the them solely to not betray European solidarity. And now the imposition of sanctions would mean they would not only have possible problems with the flow of tourists, but also tangible losses to their already problematic and large agricultural sector.
Samorukov, however, doubts this will work:
The Kremlin certain in its cynicism, as usual, underestimates the principles of Western leaders and their willingness to make sacrifices for the sake of the idea of European solidarity, especially when it comes to such lawlessness as the revision of the borders. But still the impact on agriculture was the best choice from the viewpoint of the proportion of losses and effect.
There’s also the shooting down of MH17 by Russian backed separatists. This changed everything, and explains Europe’s suddenly discovered resolve.
Though Samorukov doesn’t make the argument, I think there’s a possible third idea behind Putin’s thinking: the long term goal of reducing Russian dependence on the West. This project of import substitution coincides with the nationalist fervor that has characterized Putin’s third term. In the short term, Russia will likely increase its exports from places like Brazil. In the long term Putin is banking on the food ban to invigorate Russia domestic agricultural production. Russian consumers will certainly feel the pinch of this policy, but as Samorukov states, the Kremlin can reassert that Russia is a besieged fortress and its people must sacrifice for the sake of sovereignty. But this mobilization can’t last forever. The question is whether Putin’s strategy will pay some geopolitical dividends before the nationalist mobilization peters out.Post Views: 194
By Sean — 9 years ago
The Western media is finally discovering the Ossetians. The Washington Post details the destruction of Tskhinvali. The Post‘s Peter Finn writes,
The scale of the destruction is undeniable; some streets summon iconic images of Stalingrad during World War II or Grozny, the capital of Chechnya, which was leveled in two wars between Russian and Chechen separatists.
The Financial Times also gives voice to the anger Ossetian refugees feel toward Saakashvili. My favorite quote in the article comes from an Ossetian woman’s take on the assault on Tskhinvali. “They must have been Nato troops,” she told the Times. “The Georgians don’t know how to shoot.”
The quote by this woman raises another interesting aspect to the coverage of the war. The vast majority of quotes from “average people” are from women. It all makes me wonder if the prevalence of women’s voices is because they are the majority of refugees (all the men have gone to fight), are more apt to talk to reporters, or women have more truth value as victims. Perhaps it’s a strange combination of all three.
The Independent‘s Shaun Walker looks at how the ethnic tensions in the Caucuses are the result of Stalin’s footprint in the region. “Borders between the different entities of the union were changed at will, often with the express intention of fomenting ethnic unrest,” he writes. Actually, he’s wrong. Borders weren’t changed at will nor were they drawn to foment ethnic unrest. The “divide and rule” thesis doesn’t apply anymore in light of archival evidence. Soviet border drawing was a complex process that implemented all the knowledges of modernity: census taking, ethnographic surveys, map making, as well as central and local administrative and political concerns. As Francine Hirsch writes in regard to border drawing in Central Asia in her masterful Empire of Nations: Ethnographic Knowledge and the Making of the Soviet Union,
The archival record suggests that the Soviet approach to Central Asia was consistent with its approach to the Belorussian and Ukrainian republics. In all of these cases, Soviet administrators and experts evaluated ethnographic, economic, and administrative criteria, while giving priority to larger all-union concerns. The archival record further suggests that the classic argument about the delimitation, which asserts that Soviet leaders set out to subordinate Central Asia by drawing borders in a way that would intentionally sow discord, misses the mark.
Adrienne Edgar finds a similar process in the formation of Turkmenistan in her Tribal Nation: The Making of Soviet Turkmenistan. Given the consistency in the making of Soviet national republics, one can assume that the process in Transcaucasia was no different. I suggest that Walker familiarize himself with this literature before making reductive assertions about the relationship between Soviet border making and ethnic identities and conflict. More often than not these conflicts tend to be more localized and contingent rather than an outgrowth of some grand scheme from the center.
Ossetian and Abkhazian self-determination is finally creeping into the agenda. The Russians have been emphasizing the breakaway regions right to decide their own fate for years (though they at the same time denied the Chechens theirs). Now the Organization for Security and Cooperation Europe has come on board to the idea. Marc Perrin de Brichambaut, the OSCE’s secretary general, told reporters that “The fate of South Ossetia must be decided by the people of South Ossetia. They live in very difficult conditions and the context of what has happened is quite complex.”
The only problem is that the Ossetians already have. Twice. The first was in 1992 where the vote was 99% in favor of independence. The second was in November 2006. Again 99% of voters said “yes!” to the question: “Should South Ossetia preserve its present status of a de facto independent state?” Both votes, however, were dismissed as fixed by Russian interlopers and subsequently ignored. Maybe they should have the referendum again. What will be said is the outcome is the same?
Father Vissarion, the head of the Orthodox Church in Abkhazia succinctly defined Abkhazian sepratism to Reuters, “What does separatism mean anyway? It means you want to separate. And who do we want to separate from? From murderers.” “If a man beats his wife,” he continued, “a court will allow her to leave him. People say we are Abkhazian separatists, but this means what? Are we supposed to be Georgians? We have nothing in common with them.”
Russian President Medvedev announced that the Russian military will pull out its forces from Georgia beginning Monday, though there is no indication that they will leave South Ossetia. This will happen only after “the situation in the region stabilizes,” a Russian Defensive Ministry spokesman told Interfax.
Georgia has its own refugee problems. There is an estimated 100,000 displaced people from both Ossetia and Georgia. A lot has been said of the Ossetians. As for the Georgians, it’s clear that the Saakashvili’s government wasn’t even prepared. “This is a very hard situation for which we were absolutely unprepared,” said Besik Tserediani, a deputy in the Georgia’s Ministry of Refugees and Accommodation. “There’s a huge amount of people coming in, and it’s impossible to deal with it.”
The sentiment among Georgians is that the Americans and Europeans were supposed to help them. Now help, in the form of humanitarian aid, is coming after the fact. The Moscow Times reports that humanitarian aid is pouring into Georgia. The International Committee of the Red Cross is demanding safe access to South Ossetian but the Russians have provided no guarantees. As a result “South Ossetia is generally off limits for humanitarian workers at this stage,” says European Union spokesman John Clancy.
Here is Al-Jazeera‘s take on aid to Ossetia:
The Americans have pledged aid to Georgia and Georgia only. Two military aircraft landed in Tbilisi on Wednesday bringing $1.28 million in emergency supplies. These cargo lifts, of course, concern the Russians.
The Russians are engaging in their own partisan humanitarian work. One of Medvedev’s first acts was to order humanitarian aid to South Ossetia. There is no doubt that this has helped getting doctors, nurses and other medical aid there.
With the Americans aiding their proxies in Tbilisi and the Russians aiding theirs in Ossetia, it sadly looks like the new front in the war will take place on the humanitarian front.Post Views: 50
By Sean — 8 years ago
Last Sunday’s municipal elections in 75 of Russia’s 83 regions were like a bad rerun. Everyone played their role well in the latest stage production of managed liberal democracy. United Russia trounced its rivals, most importantly in the coveted Moscow city government where UR took 32 of 35 seats. The country’s real opposition, the Communist Party, got a mere three. Similar results were reproduced across the country. Overall numbers show that the Party of Power averaged around 70% of the votes nationwide, while the Communists hovered around 13%. The rest–Just Russia and the Liberal Democratic Party were in the single digits. The liberal party meld of Yabloko and Right Cause got nothin’ worth mentioning.
Of course, every oppositional faction–which ranges from those who could participate like the Communists, LDPR, Just Russia, and Yabloko and those who couldn’t like Solidarity–hemmed and hawed about election fraud. No Russian election can occur without it just like no sitcom sounds right without canned laughter. And especially the city Duma elections in Moscow. Did anyone actually think that the United Russia was going to allow the Communists, LDPR, and Yabloko have any say so in Moscow’s $40 billion budget? Democracy–shmocracy. This election, like all of them, was about power and money.
But Russia isn’t alone in this. It seems that no election anywhere can occur without someone committing or pointing to fraud. In an age void of mass social movements where “democracy” holds global hegemony, crying electoral fraud has become the sole “revolutionary” act in a very anti-revolutionary world. Well, I guess that and blowing yourself up. A century ago, politics was a bitter struggle between the have-nots and the haves. Economic crisis brought some nations to their knees; while others simply imploded. Now, “oppositional” politics has been reduced to the presence or absence of ballots.
Committing and claiming electoral fraud, therefore, has become integral to the logic of liberal democracy itself. For those in power, fraud serves as a soft means of reproducing their power. For those in opposition, it provides a safe raison d’etre where “democracy” is a rallying cry that never questions the foundations of the social-economic system it rests upon: capitalism. So for opposition parties in Russia, the political contest is relegated to the superstructure: the accuracy of ballots, equal access to the polls, equal participation in campaigning, etc. The ballot is a political end in and of itself.
How else can one understand the “protest” by Duma deputies from the LDPR, Communists and Just Russia? On Wednesday members from all three factions staged a walkout to protest Sunday’s election results citing the mass falsification of votes in favor of the Party of Power. The deputies demanded a meeting with President Medvedev. When the President phoned LDPR hetman Zhironovsky and KPRF batka Zyuganov with a promise of a future meeting, the “revolutionaries” signaled that they would return to their stations, though Zyuganov says that his KPRFers won’t do anything until they actually meet with him. “The fight goes on,” he declared. Spoken like a true heir of Lenin.
The action is rightly being hailed as nothing more than a stunt staged by the factions or possibly even by the Kremlin itself. United Russia dominates the Duma so thoroughly that it could function just fine without them, making the opposition’s walkout utterly meaningless. The scandal will unlikely move any passions among the populace. One thing you can say about many Russians, they are hardly naive when it comes to the tenor of this political dance. According to a recent Levanda Center poll, 62 percent of Muscovites see elections as “simply imitations of a battle” between political elites. Or, as Anton Orekh writes on Ekho Moskvy, “The mutiny has been staged, just like the elections. First we were shown an imitation of elections and now an imitation of fury with the results of the elections.” It’s like a revision of the Soviet adage: “You pretend to govern and we pretend to support you.”
Perhaps the most interesting comment comes from Eurasianist philosopher extraordinaire Alexander Dugin:
“I think that a high level of depolitiization exists in the country. This means that both the people and those in power agree that serious political questions that would demand including the public are not on the table. Therefore interest in parties is sapped and party politics is transformed into a kind of ceremony, a ritual.
This has an impact on elections, because I think that people simply don’t participate in them. It is clear to everyone in the elections: no intrigue, no interests, and no enemies and no friends. In this sense, I think that interest in elections is totally absent.
Dugin went on to conclude: “Therefore I think that elections [are] very uninteresting, boring, and predictable, and naturally United Russia will win. It’s possible to not hold elections at all. [They should] simply announce that United Russia won.”
We should listen to Dugin. Instead of participating in the ritual of pointing out (yet again) the fraud of Russia’s elections (oh, the horror!), perhaps we should sit back and think of them as if they’ve already “jumped the shark” and hope that the Kremlin at some point cancels this bad sitcom so we can move on to other business.Post Views: 60