As soon as Vladimir Putin assumed power in Kremlin last year, we have seen immense involvement of Russia in the international affairs. From Cyprus to Iran and Syria, the amount of aggressiveness Russia showed to maintain its interests was comparable to Soviet times. After a big gap of 20 years, when this huge nation was keeping a low profile since the collapse of Soviet Union, Russia’s recent active role in the world politics has given hopes that soon we are going to see a multipolar world ending US dominance. To discuss the mood in the Kremlin we interviewed Gabriela Ionita, Editor in chief of Power&Politics World who is also an expert in Russia’s international affairs.
TWR: After the collapse of Soviet Union, we saw Russia had gone under a cold state. There was almost negligible response from Russia on Iraq and Afghanistan war. But we could see some response from Russia on Libya, and now Russia has come out fully aggressively in Syria’s case. Do you think all these years, when Russia re-established itself on the global platform, it has prepared itself to take on western world again on global geopolitics issues? Are we going to see a bipolar or a multi polar world soon?
G.I.: We are already part of a world with multiple power centers. President Obama’s speech, at the recent meeting of the UN, certifies such a perception of political analysts. To reduce the geopolitical equation only highly questionable relationship between U.S. and Russia is meaningless. There are numerous emerging economies from which even Russia and U.S. could learn some useful lessons. Also, there are many cooperation organizations to which the two are not only States, but also leaders and the need to find consensus solutions to highlight leadership. And last but not least, we see that today almost all the countries of the world – from the European Union, the Middle Orient, the Chinese and American societies – are faced, in one form or another, with the need to find new strategies and preserve their identity in the radically changing world, and Russia – a huge melting pot of ethnic groups and cultures – cannot make an exception from it.
In the last two decades, Russia has changed its political and ideological concepts as far as was possible with the legacy of the former USSR, legacy assumed open by the new leaders in Moscow. As you were saying, there was almost a negligible response from Russia on Iraq and Afghanistan war. But we must remember that Russia had its own catastrophic experience in Afghanistan, whose consequences are still felt in the minds of the Russian society. So it’s good to notice that after the disintegration of the USSR Russia has really felt what a collapsed state means. Its first and foremost priority was the domestic situation. It is known that the economic growth, prosperity and geopolitical influence are derivatives from the total condition of a settled society. After overcoming the urgent impediments of internal order, it was logical for Russia to wonder itself: ”who is ?” and where should it be looking on foreign policy for supporting its own interests. The first step, of course, was trying to gain the regional influence and, subsequent, the global influence and its returning to the table of the world’s great leaders.
Regarding the reaction to the conflict in Libya, I do not think that Russia had a clear strategy. This was more an attempt of the ex-president – the current prime minister Medvedev – to improve his personal political rating, which proved to be a rather unsuccessful attempt. Instead, Russia’s intention to protect its interests in the Middle East were seen in the intervention in Syria. Russia wants to be a major decider and even a major opponent when its interest dictates. And if you take a peek at the commercial agreements between Russia and Syria or Iran, it is easy to see that here the interests dictate.
Contrary to controversial statements regarding Russia’s imperial obsessions, restoring the USSR and other such foolishness that the russophobias propaganda sites are full of, there is nothing unusual in Russia’s intentions. Looking closely and judging right, we can see that all the great and small powers of the world are doing everything they can to promote their economic interests and preserve their own sphere of influence. What differs are only the methods and strategies used. Some prefer to invoke the principles of democracy and human rights, other – the rule of law and veiled threats, other – economic pressures and direct threats, others – just shut up and do – the last statistically having the best results.
TWR: – But what do you think about the relations between Russia and the U.S. at the moment?
On one hand, it would be childish of us to believe that between two states that claim to be a global power pole there could be a relationship like ”milk with honey”. On the other hand, in spite of the officials declarations, the restart of Russian and American relations continued all along (sometimes even for reasons of internal propaganda of the two states) to be hunted by the ghosts of the Cold War. Nowadays, at the level of perception of public opinion I will quote Olga Kamenciuk, communications director of the Russian Center for the Study of Public Opinion. “Lately, between Russia and the U.S. there are many differences. Mainly, this is on the cases such as Snowden and about Syria. Regarding Snowden, for example, most Russians thought that Russia’s position will worsen relations with the U.S., but only 15% are saying he does not have to be granted political asylum”. The same is the public opinion in the case of Syria. Russians understand that this situation will worsen relations with America, but prefer an independent position of their country on this issue. In the U.S., the situation is somewhat similar. According to Gallup (agency for marketing and social studies) for the first time since 2000, the number of those who consider Russia an enemy exceeded the number of those who see Russia as an ally.
But it’s good to remember that not always the public perception also means the reality behind the closed doors. U.S. and Russia worked together and effectively collaborate on the levels where the interests of the two coincide. The fight against terrorism, drug trafficking, aviation security, cyber-crime are some aspects of this collaboration. Then, behold, recently a NATO ship arrived in port at St. Petersburg as part of continued NATO-Russia Council military cooperation, and provided an opportunity for naval counterparts to meet and exchange experiences. And even when we are tempted to believe that relations between the U.S. and Russia are at their lowest level in a few days will take place in Brussels the first over two years meeting of the NATO-Russia Council (NRC) at the level of Defense Ministers with the participation of Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu. The NATO headquarters considers Shoigu’s involvement in the meeting the unique opportunity to give an impetus to military relations between Russia and NATO in the field of security. So here, the reality is much more complex and cannot be reduced to categorical labels.
TWR: In spring, Cyprus approached Russia under financial crisis to seek potential bailout plan which Russia refused. Why do you think that Russia let go such a big opportunity of earning a partner in Mediterranean Sea, who was ready to offer its gas fields and warm water port at a strategically important place just under the nose of EU?
G.I.: In reality, things are not so simple. Many people said they were surprised and wondered at the time why the Prime Minister Medvedev stepped out in the case the Cyprus crisis. […]
interview made by Sanskar Shrivastava, editor in chief of TWR