By Pierre Noel, Hassanal Bolkiah Senior Fellow in Economic and Energy Security
In the Baltic states, energy security remains perceived as a truly serious issue. It’s seen as a question of survival rather than, as it is in much of the world, merely an exciting topic for after-dinner speeches. Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania depend entirely on Russia for their gas supply and have complicated political relationships with Moscow. Recent numerical indicators of gas-supply security – including my own – show that the Baltics are among the least secure countries in Europe. Therefore they want to invest in gas-supply security.
The European Commission encourages them to do so, but has precise ideas about how it should be done: it has made subsidies contingent on the building of joint regional infrastructure. Brussels’ dream however, although aggressively pursued since 2009, has failed to materialise. In fact, Baltic gas-security cooperation faces serious political and even legal hurdles. Steps already taken have managed to infuriate Russia without improving the Baltic states’ ability to cope with supply disruptions in any way.
Therefore it is important to know if Baltic cooperation is absolutely needed, simply desirable or just one solution among others to improve Baltic gas-supply security.
By Alexa van Sickle, Assistant editor
The US ‘reset’ towards Russia during the first Obama administration had created ‘dividends for European security’, the IISS’s new senior fellow for Russia and Eurasia told an audience in London this week – even if this positive effect was underappreciated. However, relations with Russia in Obama’s second term would be complicated by Vladimir Putin’s recent return to the presidency and Putin’s less apparent warmth towards Washington than predecessor Dmitry Medvedev.
Russia has assumed the helm of the G20 forum of leading economies at a time of concern that the group – so decisive in the wake of 2008 global financial crisis – is in danger of losing its way. What can Moscow do during its year-long presidency to help restore the group’s credibility?
Colleagues at the Council on Foreign Relations have canvassed opinion, ‘hoping to assist the government of Russia in defining priorities’. As part of its Council of Councils initiative, which includes the IISS, the CFR has published a collection of policy ‘memos'; one comes from Sanjaya Baru, IISS director for Geo-economics and Strategy, and Samuel Charap, our senior fellow for Russia and Eurasia.
In ‘Russia and the G20′, Baru and Charap point out that Russia is unique in being both a member of the G8 leading industrialised nations and one of the BRICS (the term for the world’s fastest-growing emerging markets, which also refers to Brazil, India, China and South Africa). Although Moscow has a mixed record in leveraging its position between the West and ‘the rest’, it does have the potential to act as a bridge between advanced and developing economies, they believe.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has set out five central issues for the G20 summit in St Petersburg this September, from reforming the international currency system to advancing discussions on energy security and climate change. Meanwhile, emerging nations have been calling for a greater role in international financial institutions like the IMF and World Bank, and the latest round of WTO trade negotiations has long been stalled.
The IISS authors focus on the ways in which the G20 could respond to its critics by taking forward the agenda agreed at its September 2009 summit in Pittsburgh to speed up the restructuring of the IMF and World Bank shareholdings, reviving the Doha Round of WTO talks and discouraging countries from ‘pursuing beggar-my-neighbor trade and currency policies’.
While they recognise the problems hampering the G20’s effectiveness – from national leaders’ current domestic preoccupations to overlap with G7, G8 and BRICS meetings – Baru and Charap suggest that the G20 has enormous influence over the IMF and the IBRD (International Bank for Reconstruction and Development), as it includes almost all the major shareholders. ‘Even the WTO can be guided by the G20′.
The same is not necessarily true, they argue, of other global negotiations, especially those relating to climate change, where many non-G20 countries have such major stakes.
With all the high-level diplomatic visits to Moscow and accompanying news headlines, a casual observer might easily conclude that Russia holds the key to resolving the Syrian crisis, writes Samuel Charap, IISS senior fellow for Russia and Eurasia, in a New York Times op-ed. ‘But as the latest round of failed talks this weekend – this time between Russia’s foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov, and Lakhdar Brahimi, the United Nations and Arab League envoy on Syria – conclusively demonstrate, Russia will not be part of the solution on Syria.’
Charap says that some members of the international community continue to hope that Moscow can bring its influence on President Bashar al-Assad to bear on some sort of political transition. However, he points that the Kremlin has not only ‘fastidiously’ avoided joining the call for Assad to step down, but has also issued three UN Security Council vetoes during votes on Syria, and ‘bent over backward to water down the Geneva Communiqué calling for a peaceful transition of authority’.
Russia is not blind to the tragedy of the situation, but its approach to international intervention is very different from that of much of the rest of the international community, particularly the United States and the European Union. ‘Moscow does not believe the UN Security Council should be in the business of endorsing the removal of a sitting government,’ explains Charap. Indeed, it views many past US-led interventions as threatening to the stability of the international system and is not convinced that Washington’s motives in Syria are driven purely by humanitarian concerns. It even worries that giving its imprimatur to international action on Syria could potentially threaten ‘regime stability’ in Russia itself by creating a dangerous precedent that could eventually be used against it.
By John Drennan, Research Assistant, IISS-US
Russia is using military aid and basing deals to shore up its strategic position in Central Asia, ahead of NATO’s 2014 withdrawal from Afghanistan. A $1.1 billion military aid package to Kyrgyzstan was finalised recently, and in November Moscow announced a plan to provide $200 million in Russian assistance to upgrade Tajikistan’s air-defence system.
The Russian government has also signed two new deals trading economic assistance for basing rights in Central Asia. In October, the Tajik government agreed to extend the lease on Russia’s base in Dushanbe until 2042, in exchange for a nominal sum plus military training and better access to the Russian labour market for Tajik citizens. (Currently, almost half of Tajikistan’s GDP comes through remittances.) In September, Moscow announced a 15-year extension of its air base in Kyrgyzstan in return for $489m in debt settlement and an agreement for energy infrastructure upgrades. Kyrgyzstan’s parliament officially ratified the agreement on 13 December.
These developments strengthen Russia’s position in Central Asia at a time of great uncertainty about the future role of the United States, which has had a basing footprint in the region as part of NATO’s campaign in Afghanistan since 2001.
It wasn’t all about Syria in the Q&A at the end of the First Plenary Session – but it certainly led the discussion. Senator John McCain was critical was critical of US inaction: ‘In Syria … everything that people said would happen if we did not intervene has now happened because we have not intervened,’ he said. Fellow panellist Charles Ruppersberger, on the other hand, was optimistic about the role Russia could play not only in Syria but also in negotiations with Iran. ‘Sometimes negatives turn into positives and I think this relationship that we can work with Russia will help us,’ he said.
Participants also spoke about various wider regional and geopolitical risks generated by the Syrian conflict. The discussion provided a remarkable insight into the current situation and of US thinking on the processes taking place in the Middle East.
Energy issues were not forgotten. David Butters of Chatham House provocatively asking the panel: ‘How long are the American people prepared to continue to bankroll the security of Chinese oil supplies?’
Read the first part of Alexander Vysotsky’s account of the session: Day 1 at Manama: view from the floor
By Alexander Nicoll, Editor of Strategic Survey 2012: The Annual Review of World Affairs
Journalism is said to be the first draft of history. But as an ex-journalist, I know that it’s a pretty imperfect draft. The IISS publication Strategic Survey: The Annual Review of World Affairs may immodestly claim to be a better stab at a first draft – trying, as it does, to impose some order on the events in a 12-month period.
The fruit of this year’s efforts will be published on Thursday. This is the seventh time that I’ve edited the book, rather fewer than the late Sidney Bearman, who was the editor for 24 years until 2001. Each year presents a challenge to the editor: trying to cut through the enormous melange of things that happen all over the world and to present a picture of how they intersect. What is important and what is not? What trends can be discerned?
The battle for Syria is best understood as the epicenter and early stages of a regional sectarian conflict, rather than the last days of President Bashar al-Assad, writes IISS-US Director Andrew Parasiliti in his latest piece for Al-Monitor. The Syrian president has taken some hits in the past week but has settled in for a no-holds-barred fight to hold onto power. Syria’s civil war is inseparable from the broader regional conflict – ‘many in the Gulf Cooperation Council states consider Syria a sectarian battlefield to check Iranian and Shiite power and influence,’ he explains.
The US has no easy options or answers in Syria, but if it seeks to prevent Syria’s collapse, reduce the prospects for further bloodshed and facilitate as stable a transition as possible, then Washington needs to open an urgent new diplomatic front with Russia and Iran, the two countries that retain the most leverage with Assad.
By Dr Nicholas Redman, Senior Fellow for Geopolitical Risk and Economic Security
Uzbekistan has once again suspended its membership of the Collective Security Treaty Organisation, the alliance of former Soviet states that also includes Russia, Belarus, Armenia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. Tashkent is saying it took this step because it wishes to develop relations with Afghanistan bilaterally, rather than as part of the CSTO bloc, and because it opposes efforts to deepen military cooperation within the CSTO.
Yet Uzbekistan’s fellow CSTO members suspect the decision has more to do with a wish by President Islam Karimov to reopen the Karshi-Khanabad air base to US forces.
By Dr Nicholas Redman, Senior Fellow for Geopolitical Risk and Economic Security; Editor, Adelphi Books
Russia is preparing to send two warships plus marines to Syria, as the civil war in that country shows no sign of letting up.
Russia has for months supported the government of Bashar al-Assad at the UN Security Council, blocking resolutions authored by Western and Arab League states to sanction Damascus and pressure Assad to step down.
Most of Russia’s motivations for doing so are well known. Firstly, it is determined to ensure there is no Security Council cover for any external effort to topple a sovereign government, whether by military or other means. The principle of non-intervention is one that Moscow is desperate to defend. Secondly, the government of Vladimir Putin has no wish to see another president – in the Middle East or the former Soviet Union – ousted by the mob, for fear the virus could spread further. Thirdly, it fears the regional destabilisation that could accompany Assad’s downfall. And fourthly, Russia has commercial, diplomatic and military ties with the Assad government that would be in jeopardy if the opposition came to power. These interests include arms sales, use of the Tartous naval base, energy-sector investment opportunities and a close diplomatic alignment with Damascus.
The latest dispatch of naval vessels to Syria is on one level a further statement of support for the Assad government and the interests that Russia wishes to defend. So too is the delivery of reconditioned military helicopters to Syria. Yet sending ships and marines to the coast of Syria also points to an interest that sets Russia aside from all other permanent members of the UN Security Council – it has people on the ground. Rather a lot of people, in fact. Read the rest of this entry »