Global Review had again the honor of interviewing Prof. Alexander Rahr, expert on Russian affairs, political scientist, member of the Valdai Club, Putin advisor for Gazprom to the EU about the Valdai Club Meeting in Kazan in 2021 and its role and contents.
Alexander Rahr is an honorary professor at the Moscow State Institute for International Relations and School of Economics. He studied at the State University of Munich, worked 1980-1994 for the Research Institute for Radio Free Europe, the Federal Institute for Eastern European and International Studies. He was a consultant to the RAND Corporation, USA. From 1994 to 2012 he headed the Russian / Eurasian Center at the German Council for Foreign Relations. He then consulted Wintershall Holding and later Gazprom Brussels on European affairs. Furthermore, he was also a frequent guest of Putin as a conversation partner. Since 2012 he has been program director at the German-Russian Forum. He is a member of the Petersburg Dialogue, the Valdai Club, the Yalta European Strategy Network, author of several books on Russia.
Global Review: Dr. Rahr, let’s take a closer look at Russia’s national security strategies since 2009. At that time, Putin’s Russian successor adopted a security strategy up to 2020. The FAZ at the time reported:
“National Security Strategy”: Russia wants to become a world power again Updated 05/13/2009 – 7:46 PM
Russian President Medvedev has signed the “National Security Strategy up to 2020”. The aim of Russian politics must then be to regain the status of a world power. Russian raw material resources are expressly included in the arsenal of power instruments. The Russian President Medvedev has signed the “National Security Strategy until 2020”. The core of the new strategy is a combination of classic foreign, security and military policy with internal development, which is considered equally in order to guarantee national security. An “Agenda 2020” for the economic and social development of Russia, initiated by Medvedev’s predecessor Putin, is therefore integrated into the security strategy. According to the strategy, the aim of Russian politics must be to regain the status of a world power. Raw materials as a means of power Russian raw material resources are explicitly listed in the arsenal of means Russia has to move closer to this goal. In the security policy “threat scenario” of the strategy, the possible dangers Moscow has to face are listed: the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, international terrorism, attempts to resolve regional conflicts by force, xenophobia and separatism, Afghanistan, an intensified struggle for raw materials that extends to the Barents Sea, Antarctica, the Caspian Basin and Central Asia. Since the use of military force in this struggle for resources cannot be ruled out, there is an additional risk of instability on Russia’s borders.
The American plans for the stationing of elements of the missile shield in East Central Europe also have a destabilizing effect from a Russian point of view. “Strategic partnership” with America In the face of these plans and a concept that would enable America to carry out surprise strikes around the world with nuclear and conventional strategic missiles, Russia would do everything possible to maintain parity with the United States in the field of strategic weapons. At the same time, however, Russia is striving for a “strategic partnership” with the United States and wants treaties to further reduce and limit the number of strategic offensive weapons. Russia also wants to work with America to improve the non-proliferation regime and fight terrorism. The offer of cooperation also applies in principle to NATO, which of course accuses Moscow of claiming an exclusive role in the security architecture of the Euro-Atlantic area and of assuming “global functions” in violation of international law.
To what extent had Putin already written his own security strategy, which should apply until 2020? To what extent did he influence the National Security Strategy, what were his own ideas: world power and resource empire? At that time there was still talk of a dialogue and a possible partnership with the USA and the EU and the West. What was Putin’s aiming at?
“By decree of December 31, 2015 No. 683, President Putin put Russia’s new national security strategy into effect. The document stresses that Russia has strengthened its role in solving important international problems, resolving military conflicts, ensuring strategic stability and the sovereignty of international law in interstate relations. The economy has shown the ability to secure and increase its potential during the instability of the world economy and the application of economic sanctions. The independent foreign and domestic policy of Russia finds resistance on the part of the USA and its allies. Its policy of containment includes the exertion of pressure in the fields of politics, economics, the military and information.
The increase in the power potential of NATO, the activation of the military activities of the bloc members, the expansion of NATO and its rapprochement with the Russian borders endanger the national security of Russia. The policy of the West, which is aimed at preventing the integration processes and creating hot spots in the Eurasian region, has a negative impact on the realization of Russian national interests. The US and EU support for the coup in Ukraine had led to deep divisions in Ukrainian society and to a military conflict. Ukraine is developing into a long-term hot spot in Europe and right on the Russian border.
The practice of disempowering legitimate political leaderships has spread. The so-called “Islamic State” was the result of a policy of double standards. The long-term interests of Russia are as follows: – Strengthening the defense of Russia, ensuring sovereignty and territorial integrity, – Strengthening political and social stability, developing a civil society, -Raising the standard of living, ensuring demographic development, – safeguarding and developing culture and national values, -Increase the competitiveness of the economy, – Consolidation of the country’s position as a leading world power. Russia is interested in strengthening cooperation with the EU and in building a full partnership with the USA. Russia is also ready to work with NATO. Such a partnership must, however, be on an equal footing and for the purpose of strengthening general security. The determining factor in relations with NATO remains the unacceptance of NATO’s rapprochement with the Russian borders and an increase in its military activities.
To what extent was this new National Security Strategy 2015, i.e. one year after the Crimean Section and the Ukraine conflict, different from the previous one and what remained the same and changed? To what extent was this Putin’s own initiative or reaction to Western actions?
Alexander Rahr: Vladimir Putin is clearly the great strategist behind all Russian foreign policy doctrines since 1999. Dmitri Medvedev has only played the role of a placeholder in recent Russian history. He did not have his own foreign policy concept. Even if Medvedev is seen as a liberal in some circles, the reality is that he does not have his own team and no staff, and even as president from 2008-12 never did. If Putin had resigned forever in 2008, as the Russian constitution at the time required, Medvedev would most likely have moved closer to the West again with a more independent foreign policy concept. Inside, he seemed to be a covert supporter of Boris Yeltsin’s diplomacy. Let’s remember: Yeltsin strove to anchor Russia in the West in the 1990s. Yeltsin did not oppose NATO’s eastward expansion to include the Central and Eastern European states because he understood the concerns of these countries, which had to endure 45 years of communist foreign rule. Yeltsin thought that the US and the Europeans would favor an alliance with Russia in the medium term – against the global dangers from the south. Yeltsin envisaged a common security architecture from Vancouver to Vladivostok. He could even imagine Russia becoming a member of NATO.
Now we come to Putin and the various Russian security doctrines at the beginning of the 21st century. They correspond to a historical logic, because in reality the global interests of Russia and the West are so different that an alliance or integration of Russia into the West seems unrealistic. Putin recognized this at the beginning of his term of office when NATO, despite Russian opposition, intervened in the civil war in the former Yugoslavia and Serbia tore the Kosovo region away. Putin speaks frankly today of his great disappointment with the West in the Chechen war. Instead of supporting the Russian fight against Islamism there, the West supported the Chechen separatists. America’s withdrawal from the ABM Treaty and the establishment of an American missile defense system directed against Iran, North Korea and Russia convinced Putin that the West refused an alliance with Russia.
The following Russian security doctrines therefore revolutionized in a different direction. Russia and the West became rivals, competitors, and adversaries again. Putin changed the Russian security policy and went into confrontation with the West as early as 2004/05. It is correct, and so it is in today’s security doctrine, that under Putin Russia is striving for a great power status. It is to be achieved by strengthening Russia as a resource and energy superpower. The energy sector was nationalized in Russia, the oligarchs removed from the energy sector, Russia is using its raw material dominance on a global level to regain superpower status.
The West responded to this development in accordance with the confrontation. The EU in particular began to become more independent of Russian energy exports. But if you study the latest security doctrine, what are Russia’s real strategic interests? And why should the West take them seriously and not look down patronizingly with a mild smile on Moscow’s dreams of great power? Quite simply: because the national security doctrine is serious and Putin is implementing it – step by step. In terms of its self-image, Russia will be a traditional nation-state that will oppose western transhumanism and postmodernism. Russia has drawn clear red lines towards NATO: if Ukraine and Georgia join NATO, Russia and the West will be in a state of war.
The western media are allowed to continue commenting on the situation and ridiculing Russia. That does not change the acute danger of a final break in civilization between West and East. The Russian security doctrine, like NATO, relies on deterrence. But that doesn’t mean we’re in the Cold War again for a long time. In the future, it is important to respect mutual national security interests. And to seek a balance of interests. And here is my advice to the next Federal Chancellor: Try to promote a new policy of détente with Russia. Putin is not averse to her, as he always emphasizes in his last name articles. Berlin must take him seriously and at his word and take Russia’s interests into account.
Global Review: What is now in Russia’s new National Security Strategy of 2021? What has changed now? What are the innovations. Strangely enough, you hardly read anything about it in the western media. The Moscow Times certifies the new NSS rather a complete paranoia regarding the domestic and foreign, which is based only on security interests and has no own perspective for the country- Original Moscow Times:
“New National Security Strategy Is a Paranoid’s Charter
Russia’s new National Strategy regards not just foreign countries as a threat, but the very processes reshaping the modern world.
Russia’s new National Security Strategy is not a revolutionary document, to a considerable extent simply building on its predecessor document from 2015. However, it does mark the progressive shift in the Kremlin’s priorities towards paranoia and a worldview that regards not just foreign countries as a threat, but the very processes reshaping the modern world.
The Strategy is meant to be updated every six years, so the document Vladimir Putin gave official force with his decree ‘On the National Security Strategy of the Russian Federation’ of 3 July reflects this process of regular revision.
Much is essentially the same as in the 2015 iteration, but it is the changes which matter. The Strategy is meant to be the ultimate distillation of Russia’s national interests, strategic priorities and threat perceptions.
As such, it is both of great and limited importance.
It is a broad planning document, rather than a specific and operational one: clause 40(3) speaks, for example, of the importance of maintaining adequate nuclear deterrence, and clause 56 affirms the necessity of strengthening Russia’s sovereignty over its information space, without giving any sense of what the country’s force requirements are, or how ‘information sovereignty’ can be enforced.
On the other hand, as the foundational document on national security — and to the Kremlin, almost everything is seen through the prism of security these days — it is meant to be reflected in all more detailed doctrines and programmes, as well as in the wider conduct of state policy.
What is striking is that the new Strategy paints a more alarming picture about the threats Russia faces from the West and also conceptualizes those threats in wider terms. This is hardly surprising as the task of developing the document falls to the Security Council’s secretariat. Although its role is meant largely to be to facilitate the year-long process of drafting consultation and to broker consensus between various stakeholders, in practice that gives the body considerable influence over the process and outcome.
The final document certainly looks as though it bears the fingerprints of Nikolai Patrushev, the powerful Secretary of the Security Council and in effect the closest thing the Russian system has to a National Security Adviser. One of the more hawkish figures within Putin’s inner circle, Patrushev has made no secret of his belief that Russia is in effect already in an undeclared struggle with a West.
Back in March, he told the newspaper Rossiiskaya gazeta that “in order to contain Russia,” the West was trying “to destabilize the socio-political situation in the country, to inspire and radicalize the protest movement, and to erode traditional Russian spiritual and moral values.”
The Strategy quickly identifies the threat generated by “the desire of Western countries to preserve their hegemony” (clause 7), with the primary challenges coming from non-military vectors, such as a “desire to isolate the Russian Federation and the use of double standards in international politics” (18) and indeed attempts by “unfriendly countries… to use socio-economic problems in the Russian Federation to destroy its internal unity, instigate and radicalize a protest movement, support marginal groups and divide Russian society” (20).
The last point highlights the increasingly broad notion of ‘security’ and ‘threat’ embodied within the Strategy. It is not just about cyberattacks and disinformation, but “attempts deliberately to erode traditional values, distort global history, revise views on Russia’s role and place in it, rehabilitate fascism and incite interethnic and inter-confessional conflicts” and even to restrict the use of the Russian language (19).
Let’s be clear: there is much in the Strategy that it either inoffensive or downright positive.
Improving public health and road safety, protecting citizens’ rights, encouraging a healthy lifestyle, improving labour productivity, cracking down on monopolies — all of these are admirable goals.
However, we’ve seen such aspirations before, and yet the Kremlin is putting political considerations above health ones in its COVID-19 response, monopolism and crony capitalism abounds, and the opposition is facing a crackdown that goes well beyond what even Russian law envisages and permits.
The truth of the matter is that the increasing securitization of everything, and the association of everything the Kremlin fears or dislikes with foreign subversion simply makes this a paranoid’s charter. It does not so much permit as demand that political opposition, minority opinions, even alternative lifestyles, be treated as a threat to the state.
After all, there is a whole new focus on “the protection of traditional Russian spiritual and moral values, culture and historical memory.”
The Strategy asserts that “traditional Russian spiritual, moral and cultural-historical values are under active attack by the U.S. and its allies, as well as by transnational corporations, foreign non-profit, non-governmental, religious, extremist and terrorist organizations” (clause 87).
Let’s put aside just what ‘traditional Russian values’ may be — would they include serfdom, the knout and the terem (the social exclusion of women)? Let’s put aside the slight of pen that manages to lump the State Department, al Qaeda, Human Rights Watch and Facebook in the same array of hostile forces.
This in effect reclassifies the modern world and all the social and economic revolutions that are reshaping it as a threat.
In 1974, the Soviet authorities — terrified by the thought of the quick and easy flow of information not under its control — introduced draconian laws on the storage, use and management of photocopiers. Today’s Kremlin sounds just a few steps away from similarly trying to stand in the face of the juggernaut of progress.
Of course, the question is how much of a difference the Strategy will make. In many ways, it does not chart a new course for the future so much as codify changes which have been taking place in recent years. The attempted poisoning of Alexei Navalny likely reflected a victory for those who argued that he was not a mere opposition politician but actually a tool of Western subversion.
The current campaign of labelling a growing number of bodies as ‘foreign agents’ or linked to ‘undesirable organizations’ reflects not just administrative convenience, but also the genuine belief on the part of at least some at the top of the system that this is the threat they face.
Nonetheless, for the next six years, at least, the paranoid’s charter is law.
Are Putin’s new constitution and the new national security strategy linked and thoughts of the same father? To what extent is Russia developing into a neototalitarian system like China when it comes to authoritarianism, if pro-Western NGOs are put on par with terrorists and the Islamic State?
Alexander Rahr: The problem with the West, the Western media and think tanks is that they have all stopped studying Russia from within and only want to perceive Russia through self-reflection. In addition, the old confrontations schools of thought from the Cold War still dominate in western Russia expertise. I find that tragic, because Western decision-makers are not polished in this way to avoid catastrophic misjudgments. And through fatal misjudgments, politics of double standards, arrogance and arrogance, conflicts arise. By no means do I mean to say that the West is always wrong and that Russia is right. I ask you not to get me wrong. Russian foreign policy is also determined by arrogance and arrogance, but – Moscow takes the West seriously and realistically. The new Russian security doctrine is not paranoia, but the authentic description and definition of Russia as the “other Europe”.
For some in the West, Russia is crazy when it negates the “only true lines of the Western dominant culture”. But Russia is fighting for power in Europe, it has always tried to shape Europe according to its own ideas, which contradicted the Western point of view. Let us remember: Tsarist Russia functioned as a bulwark against the French Revolution in Europe in the 18th and 19th centuries. With the victory over Napoleon in 1812, the Russians were in Paris. During the First World War, Russia fought for the Orthodox Slavic peoples of Eastern Europe against Austria and Germany. Russian Pan-Slavism suffered a humiliating defeat, Russia lost its empire, but came back to Europe in the shape of Bolshevism with a new revolutionary idea. Hitler’s Germany was defeated by the Soviet Union, the USA landed in Europe only a year before the end of the war. Russia has renounced communism today. But not traditional Russian national values.
Today Russia is a highly capitalist and more right-wing country, but with a left-wing population. The right-wing ruling elites and the socialist population have one thing in common: the desire for a strong state that can deter opponents from outside and ensure social peace inside. For the majority of Russians, Western democracy is less important than a strong state of order. Putin understood this and formulated his doctrine accordingly. In his presidency he will not give up a millimeter of Russian soil. He hopes that the pro-Russian-thinking population in eastern Ukraine will split off from the anti-Russian part of western Ukraine. Eastern Ukraine and Belarusians are seen in Russia as part of the Russian nation. This is how one should understand Russian security doctrine. With the Eurasian Union, Russia is creating a second European integration model alongside the European Union. Moscow wants both systems to complement each other and is in favor of strategic cooperation between all European states from Lisbon to Vladivostok. But not exclusively on Western ideals, ideas and political models.
That is why pro-Western, liberal non-governmental organizations are being fought and banned in Russia today. The Kremlin suspects them all of trying to transport Western ideas about regime change to Russia. The Russian leadership is familiar with the wishes of the West: that Putin should disappear and that a pro-Western politician would finally lead the country back west. The West wants to see Russia where it was under Yeltsin in the 1990s. The Kremlin suspects that the West would regard the “Putin regime” as “illegitimate”. Accordingly, Moscow is trying to create a threat against Western influence efforts in its own country. Of course, Russia is doing the same thing the West is doing in Russia: Moscow is looking for cooperation with Western forces who want cooperation with Russia and not a Europe that is part of the US. This annoys the West immensely. How dare Russia oppose us – write the local media. Well, if you read the Russian security doctrine, the West and Russia are in competition between cultures, ideas and economic superiority. It will stay that way in the long run.
Global Review: After meeting with Biden, Putin extended the Russian-Chinese friendship treaty and now also decided on his new national security strategy, which does not provide for a dialogue with the West. The Chinese Global Times, a key organ of the CPC comments:
Russia’s new strategy shows US’ failure to split China-Russia ties
Moscow drops expectation on West to fix relations
Published: Jul 05, 2021
Russia’s latest updated national security strategy shows that the US attempt to split China-Russia ties has failed again, and this is a clear signal sent by Moscow to the world that it still considers the main threat is from the West rather than the East.
Chinese experts said the Russian leadership with strategic wisdom has found the influence and strength of the West is declining and that is why it is prioritizing ties with non-Western major powers like China and India.
The National Security Strategy of the Russian Federation is a strategic document outlining the means by which citizens, society and the state are to be protected against external and internal threats in every sphere of national life. The first such document was created in 1997, and it has been continually updated to account for new developments, said Sputnik News.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has approved the updated Russian National Security Strategy, with the corresponding decree published on the state portal of legal information on Saturday, according to Sputnik News.
Ma Yongbao, an expert on Russian studies and a senior research fellow at the Global Governance Institution think tank, told the Global Times on Sunday that compared to the first one in 1997, the new document has removed some content about building a partnership with the US and having win-win cooperation with the EU. “This shows that the contradictions between Russia and the West are serious and are hard to solve.”
Alexander Rahr: China and Asia will be Russia’s preferred partners because there are hardly any geopolitical conflicts and no competition of ideas between Russia and the Asians. This tendency is visible. Russia believes that its modernization can bring about more advantageous economic and technological alliances with Asian countries. Sanctions come from Europe, not from Asia. The Chinese were delighted to notice Russia’s turnaround from devotion to the West to reorientation towards Asia. It was important for China to prevent Russia from joining NATO under Yeltsin and Medvedev. A 1200 km long border with NATO in the north, US warships in the South China Sea – all of this would probably have weakened the new superpower China and stopped its economic rise. China knows that in the event of a military recapture of Taiwan, Beijing can count on Russian support against the US. At that moment, China will also accept Crimea as part of Russia, possibly also the Donbas. For the West, these considerations are a nightmare. The new multipolar world should never look like this. Let’s see if the collective West can stop the transition to the multipolar world. That is rather unrealistic. There will still be a new policy of détente – in climate and environmental protection. No single country, not even the EU, can tackle the problem of CO2 emissions alone. To save the planet from warming, we need a supranational coalition of willing states. Germany must play a pioneering role in a Green Deal with Russia. Russia has made suggestions to Germany in this regard. The environment and climate will soon become more important than nuclear weapons and disarmament. At this level of cooperation, lost trust can be regained.
Global Review: In addition, the CCP writes about the Biden-Putin meeting that it cannot detach Russia from China and that the New Security Strategy is the sign and guarantee for it:
“Western media or observers who expect that one meeting between the presidents of the US and Russia can reset bilateral ties and even split the China-Russia partnership are too na?ve. They have no idea what has happened with Russia-US relations in the past 30 years. It’s been a series of tragedies,” Li Haidong, a professor at the Institute of International Relations of China Foreign Affairs University, told the Global Times.
Russia has abandoned any expectation of fundamentally fixing and improving ties with the US and the EU, and what the US has done to Russia in the past decades has disappointed and offended Moscow over and over again, analysts said.
Washington has set a course for abandoning its arms control commitments, the new edition of Russia’s national security strategy says. “The United States is pursuing a consistent policy of abandoning international obligations in the field of arms control against the backdrop of developing the potential for the global missile defense system,” reads the document, TASS reported.
It noted that the planned deployment of US intermediate-range and shorter-range missiles in Europe and the Asia-Pacific region posed a threat to strategic stability and international security.
Russia’s deep concern over the US is not just in the field of security, but also in economy. The document deems the reduction in the use of the dollar in Russia’s foreign trade as one of the means to securing the country’s economic security.
Ma said the US’ economic sanctions against Russia have not been removed whether in Donald Trump’s term or current President Joe Biden’s term, adding that the Federal Reserve’s current policy could devalue the US dollar, so it is reasonable for Russia to set an example for the world on how to prevent a potential global financial risk caused by the irresponsible US policies.
Significantly, the updated National Security Strategy document includes the expansion of strategic cooperation with China and India in the list of Russian foreign policy priorities, with a view to creating mechanisms to ensuring regional security and stability on a non-aligned basis in the Asia-Pacific region, Sputnik News reported.
Chinese experts said China and Russia are both major nuclear-armed powers and permanent members of the UN Security Council, who have unique influence and responsibilities to safeguard world order, peace, improve fairness for the international community and balance the US hegemony.
The two countries share common interests in many fields and are on the receiving end of similar strategic pressures from the West, so it is to be expected that Russia will prioritize its ties with China, said analysts. They said that if China or Russia, especially Russia, has an all-out confrontation with the West one day, the two major powers can at least trust and rely on each other to avoid being totally isolated, a kind of insurance that Russia cannot get from elsewhere.
How do you assess this Chinese comment. Is the CPC in a panic that the US could bring about a change in Russian foreign and security policy, and how could the US achieve this? Or is the analysis correct that Biden’s approach is naive? In addition: What did the Biden Puting Summit bring? Was it more of a goodwill show for both of them, or was it meant more seriously and did the working groups announced by the White House come about on various topics that are supposed to work out proposals, similar to how RIAC rushed ahead with the Munich Security Conference with Ivanov and Ischinger?
Alexander Rahr: I almost shy away from answering your question. Why? Because the Chinese experts are right because of my addiction. As a German expert, I am actually not allowed to say that, it removes me from the German mainstream. I’ll turn the tables and argue like this: Like GR, I am concerned with the analysis and determination of German interests. Forgive my arrogance, but from an arrogant position “the West is always right because it has better morals” one can and should no longer comment on the current world situation. I dare to say: the continuous adherence to the value-oriented foreign policy may theoretically reflect German interests in the world. In fact, this approach leads to ever newer conflicts. That is why I advocate a revision of German national interests: away from hypermorality, towards more pragmatism and a balance of interests with other non-liberal powers in the world. You ask about the outcome of the Biden-Putin summit. Well, in my opinion, the USA and Russia will now deal with each other more pragmatically, looking for opportunities for cooperation in areas where it is mutually beneficial.
I think a new disarmament policy is no longer a long way off. The US will no longer impose sanctions on Moscow, the Nord Stream 2 pipeline will be waved through. The EU has not yet fully understood the seriousness of the world situation. The Central Eastern European newcomers to the EU and NATO do not seem to be at all interested in the real world problems. It hardly seems to worry about climate and environmental protection. They sat out the migration crisis in the EU. Pandemic or not: the richer western neighbors must help. Their foreign policy focus is solely and exclusively on the conflict with Russia, and in this confrontation they draw the old Western Europeans, who actually wanted to reconcile themselves with Russia, with them.
Global Review: In addition, the Russian-Chinese military alliance that Putin was considering has not yet come about. Putin also extended the friendship and border treaty with China. Has it only been adopted or expanded or further changed? In what phase and position in the transition to a multipolar world and in Russian-Chinese relations does Russia imagine itself to be?
Alexander Rahr: Russia and China have constant relationships. In view of the Western pressure on Moscow and Beijing, these two countries are moving closer together. There are no threat scenarios on the Russian-Chinese border, as there are on the NATO-Russia border. There are certain clauses in the Russian-Chinese friendship treaty that are not public. This is about military cooperation. I notice that US-Russia cooperation in space is weakening. The USA no longer needs the Russians as partners. To this end, Russians and Chinese are moving closer together. I bet both states are planning a manned trip to the moon before the Americans and Europeans. Joint maneuvers of hypersonic weapons, which are highly secret, cannot be ruled out. Nothing more should be said at this point in time.
Global Review: After NATO left Afghanistan, the Taliban are now storming ahead in the Southern and Northern provinces. They now seem to be conquering the possible retreats of the former Northern alliance in order to prevent a repeated emergence and to prevent any possible anti-Taliban forces to make potential base of resistance impossible. Tajikistan has now strengthened its border troops with Afghanistan and Russia has declared that it also wants to intervene militarily in dealing with any border conflicts. What perspective do Russia, China, Pakistan and India as members of the SCO see for Afghanistan and the stability of Central Asia and South Asia?
Alexander Rahr: At first I was of the opinion that Afghanistan and NATO’s withdrawal from there could become the topic of discussion at the Biden-Putin summit. I assumed that the US would accept Russia as the most reasonable law enforcement agency in this region. Instead, the US is relying on India here. The Americans also want to build separate security ties with the countries of Central Asia. Some Russian experts claim the US made a secret deal with the Taliban. The latter are supposed to war against Russia and the collective security alliance of the Eurasian Union – the CSTO (Collective Security Treaty Organization) – and permanently reduce Russian influence in the region of the southern post-Soviet space. Russia could no longer be an empire. The war against Islamism is supposed to take place on the territory of the former Soviet Union. I find such a thought macabre, but it would fit into the thinking of American hardliners.
Personally, I believe in a partial resumption of joint US-Russia military activities against Islamism in the long term. Germany, which had shared responsibility for the pacification of Afghanistan for 20 years, should also position itself better here. If the USA has failed as a force for order, in the future there will have to be military cooperation with Russia in the region around Afghanistan. That would be a concern for the next Federal Chancellor. As far as Russia is concerned, Russian politicians have the idea of integrating Afghanistan into a union with Central Asia, in other words, expanding Central Asia to include Afghanistan in order to ensure immediate stability there. But: Afghanistan under Taliban leadership would be a permanent threat to Central Asia.
Global Review: At the recent Valdai club meeting, this time the Balkans were a central topic after Central Asia, and you yourself wrote a contribution to Serbia. How do you assess the role of Russia, Turkey and China in the Balkans and that of the EU. While Merkel and Germany are pushing for the EU membership of the Balkan states, Macron has linked a further admission with the demand that the EU treaty must first be changed so that new members of the EU not only adhere to the membership criteria at the beginning, but also in principle and in the long term. Otherwise it must be possible to exclude them. While Germany tends to follow the ideology Big is Beautyful and quantity over quality, quantity over quality and is driven by the fear that Russia could geopolitically incorporate the Balkans, Macron seems to have a different idea How do you see this and also from Russia’s point of view?
Alexander Rahr: The meeting of the international Valdai Club in Belgrade made it clear that Serbia is interested in close relations with Russia, but at the same time wants to belong to the EU for material reasons. A NATO membership of Serbia is excluded because of the NATO war against Serbia in 1999. Economically, Serbia will more likely orient itself towards China and Russia, because the political conditions on which Serbia’s accession to the EU depends cannot be met by the Serbs today. What is meant here is the recognition of Kosovo.
At the Balkans Conference there was speculation about the idea of border shifts in the Western Balkans. The hitherto rump state of Bosnia-Herzegovina is to surrender the Serbian-populated areas to Belgrade and the Croatian-populated areas to Zagreb. Kosovo could unite with Albania, presumably also Bosnia. The USA seem to support the plan for reasons of stability, Germany and France are against territorial changes.
Germany is indeed dreaming of a new EU enlargement to include the Western Balkans. One hears in Berlin that they don’t want no man’s land or blank spaces in Europe. The French, on the other hand, already consider the current EU to be overstretched. They fear for the economic and financial stability of the EU if new unreformed and poor states are accepted. From my point of view, the idea of creating a new peaceful empire for Charlemagne through the EU can no longer be fulfilled. After Great Britain leaves the EU, the political weight of the EU will shift to Central Eastern Europe anyway. The future EU will soon no longer be supported by the Berlin-Paris axis. Given the new strength of Russia and Turkey, the EU has lost its previous political monopoly on Europe. Not everyone in the West understood this. I have to say: Valdai in Belgrade was extremely exciting.
Global Review: How do Sue think the Ukraine conflict is developing? Before the Biden-Putin meeting, Russia stationed massive troops to the Ukrainian border that it was not clear to what extent a renewed annexation of eastern Ukraine or only a testing of Biden would take place here. In our Global Review interview, you said that Russia has no intention of conquering Ukraine like it did 100 years ago, which it turned out to be right. Russia sees the further development in Ukraine after Turkey supplies the Ukrainian army with drones, the USA defensive weapons, Germany has so far only been involved diplomatically through the Minsk process, but now the Green Coco candidate is going to Ukraine, has himself photographed with a steel helmet and demands defensive arms deliveries from Germany to Ukraine, while GB is threatening Russia in the Black Sea? Is this perceived more as a joke in Moscow?
Alexander Rahr: The German interest in the Ukraine conflict is clear. There cannot be a major war on the European continent. That is why Chancellor Merkel initiated the Minsk process. It relies on the previous Normandy format. What is the Russian interest? Long-term division of Ukraine into a pro-Russian Eastern part and a pro-Western Western part. In the short term, Russia wants Ukraine to become a federation. Then the Eastern regions of Ukraine can reactivate their economic relations with Russia. Western Ukraine could develop close ties with the EU at the same time. Russia will support the Ukrainian separatists in eastern Ukraine at all costs. The breakaway republics of the Donbas will only be returned to Ukraine if these regions are given a special status of autonomy. Kiev is not ready for this. That is why the conflict in Eastern Ukraine remains tense and frozen. What does Ukraine want? Kiev wants the West to help it regain the parts of the country that Russia has occupied, including Crimea. Kiev believes the West is not using all means, including sanctions screws, to weaken Moscow so that it surrenders. Ukraine is wrong on this point. No matter what threats some Western politicians make against Russia, basically nobody wants to risk a hot war. So the conflict in eastern Ukraine remains frozen. Crimea will not get Ukraine back either. To do this, one would have to convince the predominantly Russian population of the peninsula to break away from Russia and join Ukraine. I lack the realistic idea of how to do that, also legally. One game changer could be the USA joining the Normandy format. Then the conflict would no longer be European, but part of the great American geopolitics. But the USA will not wage war for Ukraine against Russia either.
Global Review: How will Russia behave in the further Belarus conflict? Lukashenkov hijacks international planes, speaks of terrorist sleeper cells that, with German and Merkel’s support, were planning a coup in Belarus, is now considering flooding Europe with streams of refugees? Is this Putin’s goodwill as a spearhead against the West or does Putin not like it? What are Lukachvnkovs, Belarusian and Putin’s and Russian interests? Is everything okay with Putin just to make Belarus part of the Russian Federation and the Eurasian Union?
Alexander Rahr: Belarus, unlike Ukraine, is a member of the Eurasian Economic Union and is therefore dependent on Russia. The EU has hardly any significant influence on this country. Belarus is part of a Russia-led military alliance. The majority of Belarusians do not want membership in NATO. Lukashenko is a master at handing. He’s sticking to Russia’s skirt when he gets pressure from the West. But when Russia pressures him to move to a union state with Russia, he tries again to get help from the West against Moscow. He’s been playing this game for 20 years and not without success. This is how he survives politically. It is wrong to assume that Lukashenko’s fate depends entirely on Putin. In the long term, I see a change in power in Belarus that will produce a more moderate politician. Lukashenko will probably have to go into exile in order to save himself from prosecution. Belarus will remain in the Eurasian Economic Union for the time being, because I don’t see any realistic prospects for an expensive EU expansion to include countries of the former Soviet Union. As it currently seems, Russia is by no means using Lukashenko’s weakening to integrate his country into Russia. Putin knows that a non-legal reunification, i.e. not based on a referendum, can lead to civil war-like conditions in the neighboring country. For Moscow, the most important thing now is to keep Belarus away from NATO and the EU. As long as Lukashenko remains in power, Moscow has nothing to fear. Russia will stop any attempts by the West to change the regime in Belarus. but how does it continue? Russia has just lost Moldova to the West again. In the Caucasus, Russian influence is being ousted by Turkey; in Central Asia everything depends on whether Russia can protect these countries from Islamists over the long term. What will happen in Belarus after Lukashenko cannot be foreseen.
Global Review: The EU wants to be climate neutral and a green hydrogen EU by 2050. Is that realistic without Russia? To achieve the goals of the Paris Climate Agreement and a climate-neutral green hydrogen EU, the EU only has the option of building renewable energy belts not in Europe, as this would not be enough, but in the sun belts of the MENA region and the sun belt from West Africa across the Sahel to Somalia. While the MENA belt is experiencing a certain stabilization after the turmoil of the Arab Spring, you have to at least include Turkey and Russia if you want a stable environment and perhaps a sun belt. And if there is no option for green hydrogen, you have to rely on Russia or the USA to produce blue or turquoise hydrogen from gas. The other sun belt from West Africa to Somalia is eroding and becoming a belt of instability. A third option would be to focus on sub-Saharan Africa, but no one has suggested that, not even the EU or Germany. Some Germans and Europeans are hoping for a sun belt in Australia, but even that is not sure, even in a safe environment, as Australia wants to supply Asia and the transfer of energy to Europe would be another big problem if you don’t believe all the energy and the hydrogen could be delivered by container ships. It is not possible to manufacture an underwater power cable from Darwin to Europe. How do Russia and Gazprom view the German and European energy transition?
Alexander Rahr: How is the German energy transition seen in Russia? Your geo-economic analysis is coherent, nonetheless very utopian today. Hydrogen technology will only find application in 15-20 years. The sun belt infrastructure is far too vulnerable to terrorist attacks by the Islamists. And: in a technologically highly developed country like Germany, digitalization does not work at a decent level. The power grid between Bavaria and Schleswig Holstein is still working. Germany does not have its own nuclear power plants, but has to request nuclear power in France because its own power output is weak. The German rural population is resisting new wind turbines, but their number must be tripled in order to create the next ecological energy transition. There are no charging stations for electric cars. For battery production, German industry needs raw materials that do not exist in Europe. You have to rely on producers like China and Russia again. In short: Germany will have great difficulty in making the transition to renewable energy sources as quickly as the government is promising today. There will be disappointed expectations. Above all, hardly enough countries within the EU will tackle the energy transition with the same radicalism as the German roadmap for Europe provides. Nonetheless, green deals need to be worked on and Moscow is by no means against it. What one does not want is a new form of green colonization by “progressive” countries. Germany’s less strong partners in the field of ecology demand a say and equality.