As Nato condemns the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Finland and Sweden dismiss Moscow’s warning against joining military alliance
When Russian troops crossed into Ukraine and illegally annexed Crimea in 2014, Nato was caught flat-footed by Moscow’s sudden and unorthodox military campaign.
Now, with Russian troops once again massing at the Ukrainian border, the international military alliance is keen to avoid a repeat performance.
The two sides are negotiating, with the stated aim of avoiding an armed escalation that would pull in many of the world’s most powerful military forces. But if a conflict cannot be avoided, who stands to lose if Nato and Russian go head-to-head on the battlefield?
Finland and Sweden have brushed off warnings from Russia that an effort to join Nato would trigger “serious military-political consequences” for the two countries.
The Russian Foreign Ministry released a statement on Friday in which it accused the US and its allies of attempting to “drag” the two Nordic nations into the military alliance. With conflict already raging in Ukraine, Moscow threatened “retaliatory measures” if Sweden and Finland began efforts to join Nato, The Independent said.
Finnish foreign minister Pekka Haavisto responded to Moscow’s threat on Friday, telling the nation’s public broadcaster YLE: “We’ve heard this before. We don’t think that it calls for a military threat.”
“Should Finland be Nato’s external border, it rather means that Russia would certainly take that into account in its own defence planning,” she added. “I don’t see anything new as such” in the statement issued by Russia’s Foreign Ministry.
Finland has an 830-mile land border with Russia, the longest border shared by any EU member state and Russia.
The Swedish prime minister, Magdalena Andersson, responded to Moscow’s statement in a joint conference with her most senior military commander, Micael Byden.
“I want to be extremely clear. It is Sweden that itself and independently decides on our security policy line,” Andersson said.
The Russian statement had warned Sweden and Finland that their “policy of military non-alignment” was “an important factor contributing to stability and security in northern Europe and on the European continent as a whole”.
What is Nato’s capability?
The core principle of Nato’s international military alliance is its system of collective defence, meaning if any member state is attacked by a third party, then every member state must step in to defend it.
Fortunately for countries such as Montenegro, which spends just £67m a year on defence, there are some military big hitters in the alliance.
The US spends more on defence than double the rest of Nato combined, with 2021 spending estimated at $705bn (£516bn), according to the Department of Defense.
As well as being the biggest defence spender in the world, the US has a powerful arsenal and a huge amount of manpower – 1.3 million active troops, with another 865,000 in reserve, said The New York Times in 2017. The UK is the second biggest overall spender in Nato, putting nearly £50bn into defence annually compared to Germany’s £45bn, France’s £42bn and Italy’s £20bn.
What is Russia’s capability?
Russia’s military capability is not to be sniffed at, easily ranking among the world’s most powerful.
ccording to the Washington-based Heritage Foundation, its inventory includes “336 intercontinental ballistic missiles, 2,840 battle tanks, 5,220 armored infantry fighting vehicles, over 6,100 armored personnel carriers and more than 4,684 pieces of artillery”.
But it is lacking in some areas of modern military technology, including drone capability, electronic components, and radar and satellite reconnaissance, Russian journalist and military analyst Pavel Felgenhauer told Deutsche Welle.
“That’s what the Russian military is talking about: yes, we have weapons, including long-range weapons, but our reconnaissance capabilities are weaker than our attack capabilities,” Felgenhauer said. “So we have-long range, sometimes precision guided weapons, but we don’t always know where the target is.”
Who would win?
Research published in 2019 by the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI) found that British forces would be “comprehensively outgunned” in any conflict with Russia in eastern Europe.
The RUSI found that the British Army and its Nato allies have a “critical shortage” of artillery and ammunition, meaning they would struggle to maintain a credible defence position if Russia were to opt for all-out aggression.
“At present, there is a risk that the UK – unable to credibly fight – can be dominated lower down the escalation ladder by powers threatening escalation,” said RUSI’s report.
But the UK wouldn’t need to stand alone against Russia. And Nato’s biggest player, the US, has an overwhelming advantage over Russia in conventional forces, Russian military analyst Aleksandr Golts told Deutsche Welle.
While Felgenhauer agreed with Golt’s assessment of the US’s military advantage, he warned that open warfare often comes down to far more than the inventories that each side of the conflict can call upon.
He told DW that “it’s like predicting the result of a soccer match”, adding: “Yes, basically, Brazil should beat America in soccer, but I have seen Americans beat Brazil in South Africa, at the Confederations Cup. You never know the result until the game is played.”
Via The Week
Russia Turns to Africa for Trade Amid US, EU Sanctions
As United States and European sanctions broaden due to special military operation, largely directed at demilitarization and denazification in Ukraine, Russians are now diversifying both exports and imports in Africa’s direction. After the first summit held 2019 in Sochi where a mountain of pledges incorporated in a joint declaration, but have not been given serious attention as expected.
Russia and Ukraine share common border, both are former Soviet republics struggling to move unto the global stage. Russia was angered because Ukraine’s ambition to join the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and the European Union. With the conflict that began February 24, and amid Western and European sanctions, Russia plans to expand its network of trade missions in Africa, according to Vladimir Padalko, Vice President of the Russian Chamber of Commerce and Industry.
The meeting held March 4 at the Russian Chamber of Commerce and Industry building was really to re-examine how import-export trade be intensified and map out possible support for Russian enterprises and organizations in entering the African market, in practical terms, for mutually beneficial support and benefits in the light of Russia-Ukraine crisis. State support and business facilitation have been on the agenda these several years, and was exhaustively discussed during a panel session in Sochi.
“During the meeting, the participants voiced a proposal to expand the network of trade missions in Africa in the countries, which are priority for trade. It was agreed that the Industry and Trade Ministry would work on this issue together with the Foreign Ministry and the Economic Development Ministry,” Padalko said.
According to official reports, the popular Russian perception is that Africa is a promising market for Russia and information data obtained from the Industry and Trade Ministry, Russia has only four trade missions in Africa – in Morocco, Algeria, Egypt and South Africa. In addition, several interviews and research indicated that the Russian expert community advocates for strengthening business relations with Africa, and for example sees fruits, tea, coffee from the EU countries can be replaced with products from African countries.
Deputy Director of the Department of Asia, Africa and Latin America of the Ministry of Economic Development of the Russian Federation, Alexander Dianov, spoke about the non-financial support measures for Russian companies operating within the department.
On the other hand, he said: “There are trade missions only in four African countries, and if you take sub-Saharan African countries, the trade mission operates effectively only in South Africa. It is obvious that there is something to work on in terms of developing the infrastructure to support Russian businesses. If there is a serious request from the business community, we are ready to expand the geography of our presence.”
Senator Igor Morozov, Head of the Coordinating Committee on Economic Cooperation with Africa (AfroCom), business lobbying group established back in 2009, expressed his views posted to the website: “It is impossible to grow the national economy without developing new markets. Only more than 20 companies are working on raw materials projects in different parts of the continent, there are traditional deliveries through the military-technical cooperation, export of grain, mineral fertilizers, oil products with a total turnover of US$17 billion (2020)!”
Morozov argued that “it is necessary to involve large-scale involvement of small and medium-sized businesses from the Russian regions in the African direction. It is necessary to reconsider the entire range of the export potential of the regional economy: the transport industry, agricultural machinery and units, mechanical engineering and navigation equipment, the mining sector, water treatment, and information technology.”
According to his interpretation, the geopolitical situation is rapidly changing and especially in such desperate condition of sanctions pressure, the outlook for new markets, new partners and allies are important for Russia. “This predetermines the return of Russia to Africa, makes this direction a priority both from the point of view of geopolitical influence, and in the trade and economic context. It is important for us to expand and improve competitive government support instruments for business. It is obvious that over the thirty years Russia left Africa. There are foreign players such as China, India, the United States and the European Union that have significantly increased their investment opportunities,” Morozov stressed.
Africa is one of the most promising and fastest-growing regions of the world, with leading powers actively competing with one another, the Senator further frankly acknowledged, and added that there is nothing surprising in the fact that the European Union is increasing its trade turnover with African countries, and it amounts to more than US$300 billion a year. For instance, the United States, implementing the Prosper Africa Programme, continues to push American investments and high-tech products to priority African markets.
In this regard, in order to promote Russian goods, it is necessary to create conditions that would be competitive for exporters. It is obvious that the Russian Export Center (REC) does not have a direct investment fund in the system of financing African projects. Successful practice in Africa clearly demonstrates the widespread use of such funds by China, India, France and many other players.
Russian Export Center says despite the emerging challenges the market is potentially the largest, Africa – is the continent of the future, but currently, the demand is generally limited. Speaking about Africa, there is the need to distinguish the countries of the continent into two groups: the northern and southern parts.
“We note an increase in the number of requests to find a Russian supplier from sub-Saharan Africa. Companies from such countries as South Africa, Nigeria, Ivory Coast, Ghana, Ethiopia, Tanzania, and Benin are most interested in increasing imports. We frequently receive requests to search for suppliers in such industries as mineral fertilizers, food products and the rest,” explains an official from Russian Export Center.
In such Russia-Ukraine paradigm, Russian enterprises and importers still need to understand a set of priority problems and barriers, especially now when showing searching for alternatives for European suppliers, and interested in establishing stable long-term with African partners.
Polina Slyusarchuk, Head of Intexpertise (St. Petersburg-based African focused Consultancy Group), has questioned whether Russia has a long-term strategy in there. “Today, Russia wants to deepen its understanding of the business climate and explore trade and partnership opportunities in Africa. Now at this critical time, Russians have to decide what they can offer that foreign players haven’t yet been made available in the African market in exchange for needed importable consumables,” she underscored.
The Maghreb region is an important gateway to Europe and to sub-Saharan Africa. In the past few years, Russian companies have taken active steps to increase both imports and exports of agricultural products. South Africa, Kenya, Morocco and a few others have been delivering fruits, described as marginal quality though, in the Russian market.
In an interview discussion for this article, Dr. Chtatou Mohamed, a senior professor of Middle Eastern politics at the International University of Rabat, emphasized that, on the geo-economic level, the five Arab countries present themselves as an unavoidable interface to enter the African continent, these are rich in raw materials and present as the great consumer market.
“While the context between Russia and Western countries is highly troubled, and characterized in particular by a regime of sanctions and counter-sanctions, it is to better serve the interests of their peoples and find solutions by exploiting the opportunities. Moscow has more room for turn round export-import business with the countries of sub-Saharan Africa,” he pointed out.
Members of African diplomatic missions informed the greatly unrealized potential of cooperation between Russia and African countries, and interest in attracting investments in agro-industry infrastructure, education and many other sectors, and unreservedly called for a wider interaction between African business circles and Russian businesses.
During the early March discussion, the participants mentioned high import duties, complicated certification procedures, high cost of products, expensive logistics, security and guarantee issues, and information vacuum as some of the barriers to Russian-African trade and economic cooperation. As always, the participants agreed on the need to develop a comprehensive strategy for Russia to work with Africa.
Indeed, Russia is already one of the ten largest food suppliers to Africa. Removing barriers could help export-import collaboration reach an entirely new level. Russian and African business communities lack of awareness regarding the current state of markets, along with trade and investment opportunities. There is an insufficient level of trust towards potential partners. These issues swiftly have to be resolved through establishing an effective system of communication to guarantee their reliability and integrity between public business associations in Russia and Africa.
In the meanwhile, Russian President Vladimir Putin has ordered to restrict or prohibit import and export of certain products and raw materials from Russia in 2022, according to the decree on special foreign economic measures aimed to ensure Russia’s security.
“Ensure implementation of the following special economic measures until December 31, 2022: export and import ban of products and/or raw materials in accordance with lists to be defined by the government of the Russian Federation,” the document says, adding that a separate list will define goods, whose export and import will be restricted. The decree becomes necessary in order to ensure Russia’s security and uninterrupted operation of agriculture and industry.
On March 9, Putin and his Senegalese counterpart, Chair of the African Union, President Macky Sall held a telephone conversation to discuss the situation covering Russia’s special military operation to protect Donbass and the development of ties between Moscow and Africa.
“At the request of President Sall, Vladimir Putin informed him on the main aspects of the special military operation to protect the breakaway republics with an emphasis on the humanitarian element. In particular, it was stressed that Russian military personnel take every possible measure to safely evacuate foreign citizens,” the Kremlin press service said in a statement circulated after the conversation.
The Kremlin further stressed that the leaders confirmed the importance of the consistent implementation of the agreements reached at the first Russia-Africa summit in Sochi in 2019 and the further development of diverse ties in various economic spheres between Russia and African countries.
According to the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the preparations for the Russia-Africa summit are in the active stage. The dates of the summit have not been determined yet. The first Russia-Africa summit took place in October 2019, and it was co-chaired by Russian and Egyptian Presidents, Vladimir Putin and Abdel Fattah el-Sisi. The next summit scheduled for autumn 2022.
PM Imran departs for two-day ‘historic’ visit to Russia amid Ukraine Crisis
Premier to meet Russian President Vladimir Putin among other officials, Agenda includes pushing for construction of long-delayed, multi-billion-dollar gas pipeline
Prime Minister Imran Khan departed on Wednesday for a two-day visit to Russia during which he will hold bilateral meetings with President Vladimir Putin and other officials. A delegation of ministers is also accompanying the premier.
Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) Senator Faisal Javed Khan called the visit historic and a game-changer. “This is historic as it’s the first visit to Russia by any Pakistani Prime Minister in 23 years. Khan-Putin meeting is scheduled for Thursday,” the senator stated in a Twitter post.
“Wide-ranging exchange of views on major regional and international issues, including Islamophobia and the situation in Afghanistan will be discussed during PM Imran’s meeting with President Putin.
During the visit, PM Imran is also expected to push for the construction of a long-delayed, multi-billion-dollar gas pipeline to be built in collaboration with Russian companies.
Khan’s trip to meet President Vladimir Putin and discuss issues including economic cooperation comes hours after a number of Western nations hit Russia with new sanctions for its military deployment into parts of eastern Ukraine.
It is pertinent to mention here that PM Imran’s two-day visit was planned before the current crisis over Ukraine.
“Both countries are eager to launch the project at the earliest,” Pakistan’s energy ministry spokesman told Reuters about the Pakistan Stream gas pipeline.
The 1,100 km (683 miles)-long pipeline, also known as the North-South gas pipeline, was initially agreed to in 2015 and was to be financed by both Moscow and Islamabad, using a Russian company to construct it.
It is unclear how the latest sanctions will affect the project, which would deliver imported Liquified Natural Gas (LNG) from Karachi on the Arabian Sea coast to power plants in the northeastern province of Punjab.
The project is important for Pakistan – particularly the power sector – as the country’s dependence on imported LNG grows in the face of dwindling indigenous gas supplies.
The pipeline project has already suffered delays because of earlier sanctions.
In an interview ahead of his trip, Khan had expressed concern about the situation in Ukraine and the possibility of new sanctions and their effect on Islamabad’s budding cooperation with Moscow.
Relations between Pakistan and Russia were minimal for years as Islamabad sided with the United States in the Cold War and was given Major Non-NATO Ally status by Washington after US forces invaded Afghanistan in 2001.
In recent years, however, relations between the United States and Pakistan have deteriorated and there has been thawing between Moscow and Islamabad, which has seen the planning of projects in the gas and energy fields.
In an interview published on Monday, Khan played down the timing of the visit, and any effect it would have on Pakistan’s relations with the West.
“This visit was planned well before the emergence of the current phase of Ukrainian crisis … I received the invitation from President Putin much earlier,” he told Newsweek Pakistan.
Last week, Federal Minister for Information and Broadcasting Fawad Chaudhry termed Prime Minister Imran Khan’s visit to Russia a “game-changer” for bilateral relations of the two countries.
“It will be a great and game-changer visit, and by the grace of Allah, the Almighty, now after China, Pakistan’s relations with Russia are going to get further strengthened,” he said while addressing media.
China-Russia Statement: A quest for diversity
On February 4, on the sidelines of the opening ceremony of the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympic Games, Chinese President Xi Jinping and Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a Joint Statement on the International Relations Entering a New Era and the Global Sustainable Development. It is a rather lengthy document, outlining common approaches of China and Russia to some of the most fundamental issues of the modern world including regional and worldwide security, democracy and political inclusion, social justice and climate change, arms control and nuclear nonproliferation, national sovereignty and multilateralism.
It is not surprising that this statement has received a lot of criticism coming from Western media. Beijing and Moscow have repeatedly been accused of forging an “alliance of autocracies” threatening the West. US and European journalists, experts and politicians argue the Chinese and Russian leaders demonstrated that they do not really care about human rights or democratic institutions, do not tolerate any dissenting views or political opposition and aim to maintain their legitimacy primarily on the basis of economic security and nationalistic pride.
There is hardly anything new in these critical comments. However, the logic of Western opinion-makers deserves a closer look.
First, by labeling the two countries “global autocracies” such opinions already reveal a superficial approach of their authors. China and Russia are two very different nations; each of the two has its unique political traditions and culture, each has its own approach to managing dissent and opposition, dealing with internet and social media, integrating ethnic and religious minorities. China and Russia are like a whale and an elephant, to put them into one basket of “global autocracies” is a very questionable and misleading generalization, to say the least.
Second, there is nothing in the joint statement that would give reasons to believe that China and Russia are eager to launch an ideological war against liberal Western democracies or to question the right of the West to stick to political systems that have evolved in Western countries over the last two or three centuries. The statement underscores only the obvious: No country, and no political party or movement has the ultimate answers to all the difficult questions of social development.
Therefore, there should be no hierarchy or subordination among states on the basis of how they organize their political and social lives. This, however, does not imply that there are no universal human rights, which all the states have to honor and protect. Such universal rights do exist, but they should be defined by the international community at large, not by a small group of countries proclaiming themselves as “model” democracies.
Third, China and Russia maintain that the main dividing line in modern politics is not the one between “democracies” and “autocracies,” as are often presented in the West, but rather between “order” and “disorder.” The key challenge of global politics today, as seen from Beijing and from Moscow, is about enhancing global governance within the increasingly heterogenic world. To meet this formidable challenge, the international community should regard and accept its growing diversity as an asset, not a liability. Politicians and state leaders should focus on inclusive, not exclusive, mechanisms regulating specific dimensions of global and regional economics and politics.
This is why both China and Russia expressed their firm opposition to blocks and situational coalitions based on ideological principles and aimed at marginalizing, if not containing, other international players. This opposition relates not only to such defense alliances like NATO or AUKUS, but also to more amorphous structures like Quad.
Turning ideology into the main principle defining the emerging new world order would be a strategic mistake with long-term implications for all of us. If ideological divisions prevail, conquer the public and get reflected in national strategies and doctrines, these divisions will become a formidable obstacle on the way to uniting the humankind around common problems and common public goods. The weeds should be rooted out before they grow too high.
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