Russia's Role in the International Arena
Friday, May 15, 2015
On May 15, 2015, Future for Advanced Research and Studies (FARAS) hosted in Abu Dhabi the director of the Center for Asia and the Middle East at the Russian Institute for Strategic Studies (RISS), Dr. Elena Suponina, in a workshop entitled “How does Moscow think? Current transformations in the Russian role in the international arena.”
Suponina has commenced her speech by saying that we are currently witnessing major political and economic transformations in different world regions. The US authority and role is declining; and tension is increasing between Russia on the one hand and the US and European Countries on the other hand due to the Ukrainian crisis. Hence, a new cold war is imminent, as some argue, that 'was initiated by the US'.
The sources of Russia’s power
Suponina says that Russian power resources are diversified. Russia owns a great geopolitical power. It is the largest country in the world in terms of area, with a population which has increased from 144 million to 146 million after the Annexation of Crimea in Spring 2014. Russia is one of the five permanent members of the Security Council that has the veto power. Russia also owns a huge nuclear arsenal. On the other hand, Russia is the world’s largest oil producer and occupies the top position with the largest natural gas reserves. All these factors help Russia to remain one of the world’s most important countries regardless of any crises. Russian political trends are always taken into consideration.
Consequences of the Western sanctions
Suponina discussed the negative impacts faced by the Russian economy due to the economic sanctions. In addition, oil prices are halved which leads in turn to economic stagnation, decrease in the Ruble’s purchasing power, external debt rise for both Russian companies and government, and unemployment rate increase.
Suponina asserted that the shortage of European goods in Russian markets will not encourage Russian national industries. The Russian food industry is deteriorated and prices are high compared to goods imported from Europe with lower cost and higher quality. Accordingly, this creates addition pressure on the Russian citizen purchasing power which is already weak.
However, Suponina clarified that the sanctions will also negatively impact the EU countries. Hence, European countries, such as Greece, Cyprus, and Bulgaria, have formally announced their objection to the European sanctions. In addition, businessmen in Italy and Germany do not hide their concerns about the sanctions; and they call for decreasing these sanctions which feed the European economy stagnation.
The US role in isolating Russia
Suponina highlighted the assertion of Greek Prime Minister in his last visit to Moscow that the European sanctions are driven by the US. The last seeks to weaken the Russian economy, especially after the rise in bilateral trade between Russia and the EU. However, Russia has thwarted these US efforts through hosting Shanghai Cooperation Organization Summit in July 2015 in Ufa city. This event coincides with the BRICS Summit.
On the other hand, Suponina explained that Russia is aware that BRICS summit does not make up for the commercial relations with EU. The commercial exchange volume between Russia and BRICS has reached approx. 120 billion USD in 2014. Comparatively, the commercial exchange between Russia and the EU has reached approx. 371.4 billion USD in 2013. Thus, commercial exchange and economic integrity between Russia and BRICS should be activated and increased.
Future Russian policies in the Middle East
Suponina has said that despite improvements in Russian-Middle Eastern relations under President Putin’s rule, compared to Yeltsin’s era which witnessed Russian detachment from Middle Eastern affairs, these relations need development. Russia is currently seeking a vital positive role in this area. This role remains incomparable with that played by the Soviet Union.
The Middle East is getting more important to Russia since Putin assumed presidency. Russia is getting back powerfully to the Middle East as an influential player; not only to support the Russian interests in the area, but also to try to break up the US power monopoly in it. Although relations between the Middle East and Moscow have improved, commercial exchange is still weak and does not exceed 14 billion USD. The US remains a basic strategic ally to most of the region's countries.
In light of debates on the Russian stance from the Yemeni crisis and the Decisive Storm, Suponina asserted that Russia has good relationships with all Yemeni players. The Yemeni President, Abd Rabou Hadi, has met President Putin in 2013. Russia has abstained from voting in the last Security Council session discussing the Decisive Storm. This abstention reflects Russian support to the Arab Alliance, led by KSA, which paves the road for a political solution in Yemen.
Suponina stated that despite hardships faced by the Russian economy, Russia has always succeeded in maintaining the independence of its foreign policy and oppose the US in different instances including the following:
Russia provided financial aid to Gaza strip in Spring 2006 to build hospitals and hold examinations in Palestinian schools. In addition, Russia refused to categorize Hamas as a terrorist group despite the Israeli objection. Russia also supports Palestinian unity and internal reconciliation as a basic condition for a peace agreement with Israel.
Russia has supported the Iraqi Government in combating ISIS starting Summer 2014. Russia provided military aid to the Iraqi people, and not El-Maleki, to combat terrorism and this aid played a vital role to stop ISIS advancements.
In 2013,Russia mediated the efforts for Syrian chemical weapon disarmament which stopped the US raids on Damascus.
Suponina argues that these stances demonstrate the Russian ability to adopt an independent foreign policy and oppose US policies. Suponina also believes that Russia will avoid a new cold war phase in the Middle East, regardless of many motivating factors, especially the Ukrainian crisis and the appearance of new tension hotspots between Russia and Western countries in Eastern Europe.
Lastly, Suponina asserts that Russia’s presence in international circles cannot remain limited to the Veto right. On the contrary, Russia should improve its economic power, enhance its economic performance, and increase its growth rates to strengthen its relations and links with the Middle East. Facing the US and EU sanctions is an important step for Russia to start solving its internal issues to play an influential international role.