With the changing geopolitical reality, the nature of the security threats facing Russia is changing as well. The majority of them are now coming from Eurasia rather than the West.
Women fighters of the Kurdistan Workers' Party PKK on the front line in the Makhmur area near Mosul in Iraq on 08 October 2014. Photo: Eddie Gerald/laif
The current system of international relations and the world order in general is undergoing a significant transformation. The core of the new system is shifting from the West to Eurasia, thus making Russia and China the biggest and most influential actors. It is quite clear that the West will resist any attempt by Russia or China to exploit this change to their benefit and will pursue its interests defending its vision of the world order.
This creates numerous security challenges for Russia. Being the biggest state in Eurasia, Russia is affected the most by any changes and instability around it. Thus, Moscow should have a clear understanding of threats emanating from the changing geopolitical reality.
On Sept. 16-17, the Center for Military-Political Analysis and Moscow State Institute of International Relations (MGIMO-University) held a conference dedicated to the “Long-Term Forecast of International Relations in Russia’s National Security Interests.” It gathered leading experts and state officials to discuss new challenges and threats that Russia faces in the changing geopolitical reality.
The discussion about the threats Russia is facing currently centered around several major issues: destabilization of the regions surrounding Russia (Eastern Europe, the Caucasus, Central Asia), the terrorist threat emanating from instability in the Middle East and Central Asia, and the inability of Russia to elaborate effective tools to promote its initiatives aimed at stability and development (such as the Eurasian Economic Union) in its immediate neighborhood and beyond.
With that in mind, Russia Direct talked to the participants of the conference to learn more about the major threats to Russia’s security.
Natalia Bubnova, leading researcher, Primakov Institute of World Economy and International Relations (IMEMO) of the Russian Academy of Sciences
The most urgent challenges for Russia are the resolution of the Ukrainian crisis based on the Minsk Agreements and putting an end to the Syrian civil war. The involvement into the Syrian crisis, besides the risks of military casualties, has also, despite what has been said officially, raised terrorist risks within the country itself.
The U.S. and the West are not an existential threat to Russia, but the confrontation with them bears serious risks, both political and military. Moreover, reestablishing relations with Western countries is essential, first and foremost for Russia itself, in order to stop its economic downfall, attract investment, and get access to technologies needed for modernization.
Other challenges are no less urgent, rather more ongoing. These challenges can be divided into three baskets.
The first group includes security-related challenges. Arms control should be reinvigorated. Russia should re-energize the arms control process and not let it fall victim to a new Cold War. In particular, proliferation of weapons of mass destruction poses real-time dangers. If we do not take care of the weapons, they will take care of us.
Combating terrorism, reducing threats of cyber-terrorism and countering space threats are also important here. It will be too late to think how to deal with them when they become real. Other security-related tasks like peacekeeping and fighting piracy also require constant attention and would benefit from Russia’s more active participation.
The second group of challenges consists of environmental challenges that include preventing climate change, green energy, Arctic exploration, ensuring a weapons-free Antarctica and dealing with the problems of the world’s oceans.
And the third group presents humanitarian challenges such as combating drug trafficking, ensuring sustainable development of the world’s poorest regions, and fighting disease (Ebola has already penetrated Asia).
The common aspect of all these challenges is that they require international cooperation. As U.S. President Barack Obama smartly commented during his latest and last UN speech, mosquitoes know no borders. The vast majority of these problems also cannot be resolved without Russia’s participation and it would be good if it took the lead in at least some of these areas.
What’s needed currently is a broader perspective. Paraphrasing what U.S. President John F. Kennedy once said, it would be worthwhile to think not only about what the world can give us, but also what we can and should give to the world. This is very much in line what has traditionally been seen in Russia’s literature and culture as Russia’s national idea – doing good, and not only for oneself, but for others as well, incorporating an ethics-based approach into politics.
As for long-term challenges, besides the above-mentioned ones, it is worth being aware of a giant neighbor looming in the east, the arc of instability in the south, and the spread of radicalism and fundamentalism worldwide, including in Russia itself.
Nikita Mendkovich, head of the Eurasia Analytical Club, expert at Russian International Affairs Council
I think that first and foremost the threat to Russia is extremism and terrorism that comes from two areas. The first one is the Middle East with its Syria-Iraq set of issues and the second is Asia and the constellation of threats coming from Afghanistan. All these issues are connected with religious extremism, as in both areas the Islamic State of Iraq and the Greater Syria (ISIS) brand is active. So, this terrorist threat is the most important one and it should be treated and resolved collectively.
The second most important threat to Russia from the security perspective, in my view, is drug-trafficking, which again comes from the Golden Triangle (This region is one of Asia's two main opium-producing areas and includes Myanmar, Laos and Thailand – Editor's note) and Afghanistan. On the one hand, certain mechanisms for the collective fight with this threat are already in place and they are much better developed than in the area of anti-terrorism because this issue is much less politicized. But on the other hand, the effectiveness of this fight is quite low.
I believe that in order to change this situation the fight with drug-trafficking should be moved closer to its sources. The main problem here is that the absolute cost of a drug increases with its move farther from its production spot, which leads to the increase of the necessary smuggling costs. This is why the rise of corruption opportunities for smugglers makes it much harder to intercept drugs as they move farther from a country of origin. Therefore, ideally it should be intercepted on the territory of a producer-country or along its borders. In the case of Afghanistan, I believe it requires deeper collective work along the borders of the Commonwealth of Independent States.
The third most important threat to Russia’s security is geopolitical confrontation, including Russia’s confrontation with the West. In part, it serves as a provocation factor to the terrorist threat because it is well-known that interference of the U.S. in the conflicts in Iraq, Libya and Syria led to the destabilization. Exactly because of that, it is not a primary threat to Russia but a circumstantial one. Besides, we are not on the brink of a global war today.
Vladimir Kolotov, professor at St. Petersburg State University
I see eight zones of instability that surround Russia as the most serious threat to Russia’s security in the short-, mid- and long-term. It is also called the system of Eurasian arcs of instability, which is basically the infrastructure for fueling new conflicts or escalating existing ones. It also includes mechanisms that influence those conflicts and project instability into Russia, China, Central Asia, the Caucasus, Eastern Europe, North Africa, etc. Thus, it makes Russia to react to the developments that directly or indirectly affect its national interests and security.
These arcs of instability include the territory between the Atlantic, the Pacific, the Indian and the Arctic oceans. The first segment of the Eurasian arc of instability is Eastern Europe, from the Barents Sea to the Black Sea, including Ukraine, the Baltics, etc. Events in those areas naturally affect Russia and no one could argue against that.
The second segment is North Africa from Tunisia to Egypt. Russia was affected here through the instability in Libya and ouster of its leader Muammar Qaddafi and last year’s terror attack against the Russian aircraft over Sinai.
The Middle East is another segment that directly affects Russia through the energy issues (oil and gas output), attempts to construct alternative oil and gas pipelines, etc.
The next segment is South Asia with its own complex of issues in Iran, Pakistan, India and China, which are connected with Southeast Asian problems. As a result, it creates a system that controls and manages foreign territorial disputes to the benefit of external powers. This includes disputes between Russia and Japan, between the two Koreas, between China and Japan, China and other states of Southeast Asia, etc.
The Arctic segment of the Eurasian arc of instability signals the new stage of the struggle for the resources. Russia’s military drills in the area and greater attention to the Arctic demonstrate the seriousness of such an approach.
And there are two more segments that are currently in the works. It is the Caucasus region with the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan (luckily, the recent escalation was pacified) and Georgia, which soon might become a new instability point.
And the last segment of the Eurasian arc of instability is Central Asia. The ambitious Chinese project of the New Silk Road, which poses a big challenge to the U.S. and Western economic dominance, passes through the states of Central Asia. This is why the attempts to undermine it there have already been made. This Central Asian segment of the Eurasian arc of instability covers the areas through which the Chinese project of the New Silk Road plan to go. Naturally it affects Russia as it has common borders with Central Asian states.
So, these are the general security issues that directly or indirectly affect Russia. Being aware of these threats, Russia needs to be able to defend itself from the destabilizing impacts of the Eurasian arcs of instability. So far we do not have any system of defense against it. As Russia’s current foreign policy is reactive rather than proactive we suffer from fighting with the consequences rather than with reasons of the issues and threats.