Russia Caught in Growing Turbulence

“The world has entered the era of thorough transformation. Geopolitical landscape is radically evolving, and those changes are accompanied by the growing turbulence both globally and regionally”, said Russian diplomacy chief Sergey Lavrov at the opening of the media conference which convened at the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs on January 18, 2012 to draw the line under the key developments of 2011.

As a country tightly integrated into the global economy Russia is, similarly to the rest of the world, exposed to the sweeping turbulence. As a result, Moscow’s foreign-policy priorities have to depend on the answer to the pressing question: what should the country do to preserve its statehood in the epoch of globalization and mounting challenges to the principle of national sovereignty which for decades served as the foundation of the world order? By doing so, Russia has a potential to prevent a global slide into a new conflict and unrestrained chaos, and Moscow indeed has a solution to offer, though this solution obviously runs against the plans of some international policy players. 

Sergey Lavrov made it clear in a programmatic 2004 paper in Russia in Global Affairs that Moscow is opposed to any interventions in the affairs of sovereign countries and political pressure on them under the pretext of protecting democracy, as well as to attempts to impose double standards in the spheres of electoral policies or civil liberties on nations. Those who adopt such approaches actually discredit democratic values and downgrade them to the level of a political currency egoistically used to buy geostrategic benefits. The statement sounds as timely at the moment as it did back in 2004.

The geostrategic interests of global heavyweights are easily discerned behind the events in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, and Syria or the whole wider scenario of the so-called Arab Spring. The same interests factor into Europe’s lingering crisis, drive the NATO expansion, and inevitably come to mind in connection with the permanent gridlock over the US missile defense plan and an array of likewise international policy issues. 

The recent media conference hosted by Russia’s foreign minister was predictably dominated by the Arab theme. In anticipation of an avalanche of questions on the subject, Sergey Lavrov reiterated from the outset that “We are opposing any violence towards civilian population, but we also strongly oppose military interference from the outside into domestic conflicts. We oppose treating the mandates for tackling various crisis situations given by the UN Security Council lightly. We believe that attempts to roll out Libyan scenario to other countries are totally unacceptable”. 

It should be noted that Moscow does not limit its involvement in global affairs to analysis and assessment but tends to suggest specific steps to defuse conflicts in various parts of the world. In September, 2011, Russia and China jointly floated in the UN Security Council a draft resolution on Syria, which was later amended to take into account the drift of the situation in the country.

The document’s objectives were to put an end to acts of violence in Syria while treating impartially the forces perpetrating them, to accordingly influence both the Syrian administration and the opposition, and to urge the legal opposition in Syria to distance itself unequivocally from the extremists. The draft resolution expressed support for the mission undertaken in Syria by the Arab League and called for an immediate opening of a dialog between all groups in the country.

Importantly, it was stated explicitly in the Russian draft resolution that no part of it should be read as authorizing the use of force against Syria. The peaceful character of the Russian initiatives is impossible to deny. According to Sergey Lavrov, all hopes to get the UN Security Council to green light a plan to use force against Syria would run into an imminent veto. 

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The past year left a legacy of tragedies and catastrophes, but the dire consequences of man-made disasters seem to overshadow even those of earthquakes, tsunamis, and floods. Color revolutions, the self-torchings in the streets of Tunisian and Egyptian cities, and the bloody hammering of Libya’s unique civilization – even if some of its features that did merit serious criticism – cast a long shadow over 2011.

The persistent global insecurity stems from the West’s unilateralism and recurrent reliance on military force. In the West, the position is linked to the triumphalism bred by its victory in the Cold War and to the desire to remilitarize and to saturate with ideology the entire realm of international relations. Only the strengthening of Russia and its rise in the international arena can cause the situation to revert to normalcy. 

It is natural that the Russia-NATO “strategic partnership” has to be under the spotlight as the system of international relations crumbles. Due to the reason, the missile defense problem ranks high on Moscow’s foreign-policy agenda. Sergey Lavrov voiced a clear-cut position on the issue, for example, in an October 21, 2011 interview to a trio of Russia’s leading broadcasters comprising the Voice of Russia, the Radio of Russia, and Ekho Moskvy.

Emphasizing the centrality of missile defense to the security and disarmament debate, Russia’s foreign minister explained that the entire strategic situation was reshaped when Washington scrapped the Missile Defense Treaty and took to building a global missile defense system: “As you understand, a partner who starts to feel absolutely immune due to having an anti-ballistic, anti-nuclear shield would feel tempted to put to work its nuclear-ballistic sword.

Therefore, the balance which has been sustaining stability was tilted, and, if the plans announced by the US for the third and fourth phases of its missile defense are implemented as intended roughly by 2018 and 2020, by the end of the decade Russia’s nuclear forces will be confronted with considerable new risks. We simply have no right to ignore the fact in the course of our military planning”. The logic that underlies the Russian position is completely legible: if weapons threatening the strategic parity are deployed in the proximity of the country’s borders, Russia should take the response measures to prevent the erosion of its deterrent. 

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Given the increasing complexity of today’s world, Russia has to turn to development avenues and approaches that it left untapped in the 1990ies. In a number of cases, Moscow presses for novel and much tougher solutions to fairly old problems, Russia’s current take on the Hague Tribunal exemplifying the tendency. The bringing down of Yugoslavia was a barbarian act accompanied by massive fatalities.

The decision to establish the international court for the Balkan region was made based on the findings of a commission which the UN Security Council set up in October, 1992 to probe into the violations of the Geneva Conventions and other humanitarian laws during the conflicts in Yugoslavia.

The Intentional Criminal Tribunal was established by UN Security Council resolutions 808 and 827 with “the purpose of prosecuting persons responsible for serious violations of international humanitarian law committed in the territory of the former Yugoslavia between 1 January 1991 and a date to be determined by the Security Council upon the restoration of peace”. The diffuse wording allowed the Tribunal to stay in place for years after “the restoration of peace”, with its closure chronically postponed.

At a certain point, a further prolongation of the Tribunal’s term prompted an outcry in Russia, and on December 22, 2010 Moscow refrained from taking part in the vote on UN Security Council Resolution 1966 which called for establishing “the International Residual Mechanism for Criminal Tribunals” supposed to commence functioning on July 1, 2013, when the ICTY completes its work, and to be phased out by December 31, 2014. The document was supported by 14 of the 15 UN Security Council members. 

Russia constantly charges the ICTY and the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda with deliberately extending their activities which could otherwise have reached the long-overdue completion. Moscow also calls into question the fairness of the courts, but the position meets with no understanding in the West. Anyhow, there is hope in Russia that the above resolution irreversibly set the deadlines for the tribunals and that they will be closed by the end of 2014.

As for the criticism concerning the Tribunals’ objectivity, it is motivated not only by the perpetuation of hearing delays but, even more so, by the ICTY tendency to mostly prosecute Serbs. Taking into account the above, Sergey Lavrov described the ICTY work as “far from perfect”.

Over the 18 years of its existence, the ICTY conducted 144 trials, with Serbs facing charges in 94 (66% of the total). In comparison, Croats stood 33, Kosovo Albanians – 8, Bosnian Muslims – 7, and Macedonians – 2 trials. Nineteen of the 16 indicted who died in the ICTY custody were Serbs, and some of them, including former Yugoslavian president S. Milosevic whose guilt had never been proven, died in suspicious circumstances.

The majority of the country leaders, premiers, top commanders, defense ministers, and parliament speakers arrested by the Tribunal – 19 of 27 – were also Serbs. Illustratively, the sentences handed out by the ICTY add up to 904 years for Serbs, 171 years for Croats, 39 years for Muslims, 19 years for Kosovo Albanians (who, as Swiss prosecutor Dick Marty reported to the PACE, were involved in illicit human organs trafficking), and 12 years for Macedonians.

As of today, Serbian Radical Party leader V. Seselj has been locked up in the Hague jail for 9 years with no indictment filed, which alone makes it impossible to talk seriously of any credibility of the international tribunal system. 

The proportions and sources of the system’s funding certainly deserve scrutiny. Up to 2003, the ICTY used to absorb slightly under $100m annually, and its 2004-2005 budget prior to a recount was estimated at $262.3m. Russia’s UN envoys do note that every recount causes the ICTY budget to swell. Moreover, information surfaces occasionally that the ICTY funding is not limited to the infusions made by the international community.

It became known in 2001 that, in breach of Article 32 of its own Statute, the ICTY drew financial support from several governments, private foundations, and corporations. Most of the resources come from the US government and NGOs like the Soros Foundation, the Rockefeller Foundation, Time Warner Inc., the American Bar Association, etc. as money or in the form of computer equipment donations. A tribunal into which funding is poured generously by Western institutions cannot be expected to stay free of bias, and that is another convincing argument in favor of its closure. 

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The views expressed by Sergey Lavrov at the January 18 media conference reflect Russia’s evolution over the past years from a country which – at the cost of its great power status but to the liking of powerful external players and its domestic fifth column – used to be ready to steer a fully dependent course to that demonstrating newly found assertiveness in the international politics. US President Bill Clinton reportedly said in 1995 that the US would let Russia exist but not as a great power. The lesson to be learned from the past 15 years is that there are limits to the US control…

Today’s Russia reacts harshly to attempts to meddle in the internal affairs of sovereign nations. It espouses national sovereignty which Moscow regards as the only possible guarantee of stability and prosperity for the world’s peoples. It should be realized that this policy is consonant with the interests of the whole world rather than Russia alone, as it opens up the only opportunity for breaking out of the turbulence in which the world is currently caught.



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