By Elisabeth Hellenbroich
The basis for this year’s 16th Valdai Discussion Club which took place from September 30th to October 3rd in Sochi, was the newly published Valdai report: Time to grow up, or the case for Anarchy. The absence of world order as a way to promote responsible behavior by states. The length of the title indicates the nature of the present global strategic situation which the world is facing. According to the authors of the new Valdai report, the present situation is characterized by “anarchy.” Since it is impossible to create global rule based on the might of a great power or a group of powers, the authors state in the introduction that they “rely on the instinct of self-preservation of states.” They observe that “diplomacy” is currently undergoing a crisis in which the transmission of political signals via diplomatic channels has worsened considerably. “Political signals are now exchanged through the media, often as open insults, or at the level of unofficial diplomacy by authorized experts….Diplomacy is being used more often now to exchange purely formal official statements, which neither side takes seriously.”
Given the lack of mutual understanding and clearly defined rules, the authors stress that it is vitally necessary to “revive classical traditions of diplomacy, with its non- ideological and professional ability to find ways out of even the most complex disagreement and conflicts.”
In the chapter about the “Dialectics of Military Force” the authors point to the risk of misunderstandings, miscalculation or errors. “All the major powers (the United States, Russia, China, India and even some European countries) are building up or modernizing their nuclear deterrence and conventional weapons. New technologies, from previous weapons to artificial intelligence, are providing them with fundamentally new capabilities.” However they also stress that the “United States’ hands are tied with regard to a major war against Russia or China. It would pay a very high price for such conflict, even of strategic nuclear forces were not involved. A relatively poor Russia for example could use tactical nuclear weapons to neutralize NATO’s superiority in Europe. And China is strong enough to counter any possible US aggression in Asia…. Today large and medium size powers are capable of launching successful cyberattacks on civilian infrastructure facilities.”
President Putin’s view about Asia and the Middle East
As in previous years Russian President Vladimir Putin had the occasion to address the final plenary session at the 16th Valdai Discussion Club, which this year assembled many representatives from Asia and the Middle East as well as some representatives from Europe. President Putin looked at the world from a long term perspective as well as in its historical, cultural and philosophical context. He strongly emphasized the East and the role of Asia as the world’s largest and most populated region and spoke about future relations between Russia and Asia, i.e. India, China, Egypt and Iran, Turkey and Japan, the countries of Central and Southeast Asia. All these, he stated, are heirs of great ancient civilizations, which gave humankind unique knowledge and technology as well as discoveries in medicine, mathematics, culture and the arts. According to Putin today’s Asia reaches from the Maghreb and the Middle East all the way to East and South East Asia. It is “regaining its place in international affairs and the Asian states are becoming stronger. One third of the gross world product is covered by the region, Putin underlined. And he expressed hope that the Asian nations preserve their unique features and transitions and strive to play a bigger role in world politics.”
Major attention was given by the President also to the situation in Syria and the perspectives for peace in the Middle East – in which Russia sees a major role to play. In Putin’s words “we defeated the terrorist international that was actually winning on Syrian territory and we prevented the return, the infiltration of hundreds and later, perhaps, thousands of armed cut-throats into our country and neighboring countries with whom we have visa free regime, our borders are transparent,” (…) Most of Syria was freed from terrorists within several years and the level of violence has drastically decreased.” He pointed out that “in conjunction with our Astana format partners and with the support of the UN, we managed to launch an intra-Syrian political process and to establish close working contacts with Iran, Turkey, Israel, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and other countries of the Middle East as well as the United States.”
Optimism concerning “Syrian settlement”
Putin expressed hope and optimism that the “Syrian settlement” could become a model for resolving regional crisis where diplomatic mechanism will be used in the vast majority of cases. The use of force is an extreme and forced exception. “Indeed in Syria we were faced with an attempt to create a terrorist quasi state with an actual- I am saying this without any exaggeration – an actual terrorist army.” He made particular reference to Russia’s announcement by Russian Vice -Deputy Foreign Minister Michail Bogdanov in the aftermath of attacks on oil tankers in the Persian Gulf and the seizure of UK flagged Steno, who presented the Russian “concept of collective security in the Persian Gulf to diplomats in Moscow.” Putin stated in Sochi that there is need for collective efforts to find a “Consensus based compromise solution designed to reduce tensions and resolve all existing acute crisis by political and diplomatic means based on international law.”
Another major topic in the speech were the Presidents’ remark on Eurasian and his emphasis about the need to develop trade and industrial cooperation and establish mutual exchanges by way of establishing a “Eurasian transportation framework”. He spoke about joint projects involving the North- South trading route from Europe via Russia to the Caspian Region, Central Asia, Iran and India and another route, Europe – West-China, which will connect Russian Baltic ports with Yellow Sea ports.” He also spoke about another prospective plan: the Artic- Siberia route, and presented the idea that this meant connecting ports along the Northern Sea route with ports of the Pacific and Indian oceans via roads in East Siberia and central Eurasia.
During the discussion the President he was asked about Syria to which he answered quite clearly by emphasizing that “large scale military operations are over. I am saying large scale military operations because local hotbeds or terrorism still exist.” He emphasized the importance of the Constitutional Committee- which was announced in September 23rd with the aim to make the transition peacefully. “Now we are looking forward to the beginning of this constitutional process, to the work of this committee in Geneva under the UN aegis.”
During the discussion the President was asked by an Indian discussant to describe Russia’s relations with China. He answered that Russia had no interest to “contain” China, “this would be “impossible and harmful. …We should focus on … ongoing efforts to create an environment of friendly cooperation and to search for common security systems.”
In response to a Japanese expert who asked about the Indian- Pacific cooperation, Putin referred to the “Shanghai Cooperation Organization” and remarked that Chinas One Belt one Road initiative as well as the Eurasian Economic Union are “very close to each other in spirit and in objectives and we see that all this I compatible and can be carried out in terms of a ‘large Eurasian partnership’.” In response to Sergej Luzyanov from the “Institute of Far Eastern Studies” (RAS), he stated that the Russian-Chinese partnership “enjoyed an unprecedentedly …high level of trust and cooperation. This is an allied relationship in the full sense of a multifaceted partnership. This was reflected in the economy.” According to the President trade will reach the $200 billion mark this year. Having already built four units of the Chinese Tianwan Nuclear Power Plant as part of the high tech cooperation that Russia was “working on four more units,” Putin explained. He stressed that both countries are actively cooperating in outer space and will cooperate in the military – technical sphere.
Russia giving China missile defense system
The president announced that Russia and China have advanced cooperation for creating a missile attack warning system: “I am probably not revealing a big secret here, but it will transpire sooner or later anyway: we are now helping our Chinese partners to create a missile attack warning system. This is very important and will drastically increase China’s defense capability. Only the United States and Russia have such a system now.” Being asked by a discussant about the recent INF treaty cancellation from both the US and Russia, he stated that according to him, the underlying cause for their (US) withdrawal from the INF treaty had to do with Asia. And the question was where the US will deploy its newly announced intermediate missiles.
King Abdullah calling for more cooperation with Russia in the Mideast
During the plenary session an interesting speech given was given by Jordan’s King Abdullah II. “Russia today is pivotal in multiple region and arenas – in economic, security and diplomatic matters and the interfaith relations are so vital for the future,” the King said and that “Russia and Jordan continue to share a deep understanding of the need for active , practical collaboration to achieve regional and global peace.“ Both Russia and Jordan have a shared critical interest in settling the extremist threat in the Mideast, the Syria crisis and finding an answer to the denied Palestinian statehood.
King Abdullah emphasized that Russia and Jordan cooperate closely on Syria. He particularly emphasized Jordan’s work alongside Russia, the US and other international partners to stabilize the situation in Southern Syria, where Jordan continues to bear “a massive refugee burden, alleviating the impact on other regions…The end to this crisis will come only with a political solution, one that preserve Syria’s unity, sovereignty and territorial integrity and enables the safe and voluntary return of refugees”. In accord with the UN resolutions Jordan according to the King, supports the Geneva peace process and complementary initiative, especially the Astana Process. Yet he also stressed that our region will not enjoy broad security and stability until the Palestinian- Israeli conflict ends, which will not happen “without a two states solution that provide real peace, in accord with international law and UN resolutions: an end to the conflict; a viable independent, sovereign Palestinian state, on the June 4th 1967 lines, with East Jerusalem as its capital, but living side by side with Israel, in mutual peace and security. .. Jerusalem as a Holy Site needs to be safeguarded.”