In addition to Russian military airstrikes, Syrian President Assad’s visit to Moscow and the continuing Normandy talks over Ukraine dominated the Russian foreign policy agenda in October.
Mugs with portraits of Russian President Vladimir Putin are on sale in a street souvenir shop in St. Petersburg, Russia. Photo: AP
October marked the first month of the Russian airstrikes in Syria against terrorist targets and also saw positive developments in the diplomatic process around Ukraine and Syria. Given these two ongoing international issues, some other important foreign policy events have been overshadowed.
We ranked the top 10 Russian foreign policy moves of October for you:
#10: German Minister for Economic Affairs meets Vladimir Putin in Moscow
German Minister for Economic Affairs and Energy Sigmar Gabriel visited Moscow on Oct. 28-29. The main goal of the talks was to discuss energy cooperation, the risks of gas transit through Ukraine, and the future of the proposed Nord Stream-2 project. A personal meeting between Vladimir Putin and Gabriel touched upon the Syrian conflict settlement process.
Gabriel is known to support the lifting of sanctions and the normalization of relations with Russia. He stated that the issue could be discussed after the implementation of the relevant parts of the Minsk agreements.
#9: Russian President Putin hosts the Serbian Prime Minister in the Kremlin
Vladimir Putin held a meeting with Serbian Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic in the Kremlin on Oct. 29. The two discussed, above all, issues of security, in particular the signing of a major military contract and the rearmament of the Serbian army in line with Russian standards. In addition, the meeting raised the possibility of Russian assistance in identifying Islamic State of Iraq and the Greater Syria (ISIS) extremists entering Serbia under the guise of refugees.
Although it was not officially stated, the two sides discussed the widening public protests in Montenegro against the government and the country’s accession to NATO. Despite serious pressure from the EU, Serbia has not imposed sanctions against Russia, thanks to which supplies of Serbian agricultural produce have risen by 40 percent.
#8: Russia releases a report on the causes of the downing of Flight MH17
Russian missile munitions manufacturer Almaz-Antey presented a report on the causes of the downing of the Malaysian Boeing 777 over Ukraine on July 17, 2014. The report was published on Oct. 12, shortly after the Dutch Safety Board published its version. The Russian report specifically indicates the use of a different anti-aircraft missile system and an alternative launch site. On the basis of several experiments, Russian experts claimed to have proved that the rocket was launched from an area under Ukrainian control at the time.
Having taken 15 months to reach, the Dutch findings are considered by Russia to be inconclusive, allowing the investigation to proceed in any direction. To guarantee an objective approach, Moscow appealed to the International Civil Aviation Organization to intervene in the investigation. Russia also intends to take advantage of the provisions of the Convention on International Civil Aviation and to initiate the resumption of the investigation into the Boeing tragedy.
Also read: "The Malaysian Boeing saga is far from over"
#7: Gazprom cuts planned Turkish Stream gas pipeline capacity twofold
Gazprom announced a halving of the planned capacity of the proposed Turkish Stream gas pipeline. It was a predictable decision in view of the recent agreements with European partners to build a third and fourth line of the Nord Stream under the Baltic Sea. From the start, Ankara believed that Russia needed the gas pipeline project more than Turkey, so it was not inclined to compromise on price and investments. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan even declared Turkey’s readiness to completely abandon the agreement with Russia and find other sources of gas.
Shortly after the decision, on Oct. 6, Bulgaria announced it would like to rejoin Gazprom’s project to transport gas under the Black Sea. Although Russia is unlikely to accept the proposal, it is symptomatic and demonstrates potential alternatives to the existing projects.
#6: U.S. refuses to host high-ranking Russian delegation to discuss Syria
The United States refused to receive a Russian delegation headed by Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev. The decision was announced on Oct. 14. Despite Russia’s desire to find common ground with the U.S. on Syria, the Obama administration is not prepared to take major decisions as its second term draws to a close.
Moreover, Washington does not want to give the impression that it has reached a compromise with Russia and is ready to approve Moscow’s actions. America’s allies in the Middle East could negatively perceive bilateral negotiations with Moscow.
#5: Russian and U.S. Foreign Ministers meet to discuss Syria
Sergey Lavrov and John Kerry met for talks in Vienna Oct. 23. They were followed by consultations on Syria with the foreign ministers of the Persian Gulf countries and Turkey. Russia insists on joint action to combat ISIS.
However, the Gulf States are fearful of rising Iranian influence in the region. Therefore, their main goal remains the overthrow of Assad. The talks were continued in a format that included Russia, Turkey, the U.S., and Saudi Arabia, and at the end of the month, they were joined by Iran and other regional actors such as Lebanon, Jordan, Oman, UAE and Qatar.
#4: Syrian President Assad comes to Moscow in a surprising visit
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad arrived in Moscow on board a Russian plane for an unannounced visit. The meeting between Assad and Putin occurred on Oct. 20 and is known to have touched upon the issues of military cooperation, future negotiations on a peaceful settlement and possible early elections in Syria.
Immediately afterwards Putin telephoned his Middle Eastern colleagues: the kings of Saudi Arabia and Jordan, and the presidents of Turkey and Egypt. Assad’s visit was not simply to discuss cooperation, but also had a demonstrative purpose. Russia reinforced its status as a major force in the Middle East.
#3: Putin outlines his global vision at the annual Valdai Club meeting
President Putin spoke at the annual meeting of the Valdai Club in Sochi on Oct. 22. He outlined his vision of the main global issues and stressed that competition between great powers is a natural phenomenon. However, he added that non-compliance with the “rules” of such competition can lead to unmanageable global processes and a permanent state of crisis. Putin attacked the United States for its actions in the Middle East and the post-Soviet space, yet encouraged Washington to cooperate on international matters.
Moreover, responding to questions from the floor, he partially disclosed the content of his recent meeting with the Syrian president and declared the only constructive solution to be the restoration of Damascus’ full sovereignty. Failing that, the region is set to become a permanent conflict zone for many years to come.
#2: First month of the Russian air campaign in Syria
The Russian Aerospace Forces started bombing terrorist targets in Syria on Sept. 30. Over the following month, more than 1,500 sorties were carried out, causing major damage to terrorist infrastructure. Assessments of Russia’s actions varied regionally and globally, however by the end of October all had determined in their own minds the motives behind Moscow's intervention.
First of all, Russia wants to prevent the collapse of Syria and the sweeping territorial changes in the Middle East that could ensure. Russia’s Middle East policy is centered on the logic that any externally imposed order will be neither just nor sustainable. Russia seems to be ready to act as an active player in the Middle East even after its Syrian campaign is complete.
#1: Normandy Four talks in Paris
On Oct. 2 Paris hosted a meeting of the Normandy Four to discuss the ongoing political settlement of the Ukraine crisis and the extension of the Minsk agreements. The Ukrainian side has sought to delay the peace process and would like to see the termination of Minsk-2 and its commitments under it by the end of 2015.
Shortly before the talks, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko asserted that the agreements would not be extended. However, in Paris he was forced to face the common position of France, Germany and Russia, which intend to see the peace process through to its conclusion. The period of unconditional European support for Kiev seems to be over, and that could lead to a new approach to resolving the Ukraine crisis.