Russian think tank roundup: Based on the outcome of the NATO Summit in Wales, Russian experts see no prospects for a new reset in US-Russian affairs – even as the threat from ISIS continues to grow.

U.S. jets supporting operations against ISIS in Iraq. Photo: AFP / U.S. Air Force / Staff Sgt. Shawn Nickel

During September, the top Russian think tanks turned their attention to events happening far from Ukraine – everything from the NATO summit in Wales to the actions taken by ISIS in the Middle East. Even the results of the referendum in Scotland appeared to attract more attention from Russian analysts than the many loud statements on Ukraine made by regional and world leaders.

While some analysts conjectured about the prospects of Russia and the West uniting in the fight against radical Islam, it’s far more likely, they say, that geopolitical concerns in Europe and Asia will continue to override any potential for mutual cooperation. 

What was the significance of the NATO summit in Wales?

The recent NATO summit in Wales attracted the interest of Russian analysts, but opinions about the outcome were largely mixed. There was a clear desire by some to define this event as a “threshold” in the growing confrontation between the West and Russia.

“The NATO summit in Wales was supposed to be an ordinary event held for the discussion of technical issues," Fyodor Lukyanov of the Council on Foreign and Defense Policy (CFDP) writes about the summit. "However, historical circumstances interfered. It is as if the Ukrainian crisis has turned the course of events around. Almost 25 years of development, with the alliance painfully seeking a new raison d’être and a mission in changing conditions, has brought us back to the starting point. Moscow is the enemy again, Europe is the potential theater of war, and the declared objective of the bloc is collective defense, the protection of its state-members against the external aggression of ‘you know who.’”

At the same time, Yan Vaslavsky of Moscow State Institute of International Relations (MGIMO-University) argues that standing behind the high-sounding words at the summit is only the desire to justify the existence of the alliance and that there is nothing momentous in it.

“One gets the impression that NATO had just been waiting for the right moment to ‘assign’ itself its long-awaited enemy and start the implementation of a policy of containment and defense against the mythical threat from the East," he wrote. "The possibility of a new Cold War, comparable in scale to the global confrontation of the 20th century is low. But NATO needs a ‘designated’ enemy for its own goal-setting."

According to him, NATO seeks to "to identify a target it can ‘work’ against for a long time and thereupon restore the growth in military budgets, offsetting their relative reduction by a number of organization members in recent years.”

The Director of the Moscow Carnegie Center, Dmitri Trenin, also doubts the summit will have significant consequences, in particular, for the resolution of the conflict in Ukraine.

“I think that such decisions as will be officially announced are hardly likely to have any direct impact," he wrote. "The situation in Ukraine is determined largely by the conditions in the theater of military activity, and we will see no changes here resulting from the summit if the decision is not made on the part of NATO to lend massive military support to Ukraine. The rest of what we hear about is just demonstrative moves.”

British Prime Minister David Cameron, left, speaks with NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen as they participate in a round table meeting of the North Atlantic Council during a NATO summit at the Celtic Manor Resort in Newport, Wales on September 5. Photo: AP

Can the threat of global terrorism reconcile Russia with the West?

Russian experts once again wondered about the common problem posed by the threat from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Greater Syria (ISIS)  and about the possibility of establishing cooperation in the area of counter-terrorism between Russia and Western countries. Russian experts are certain that the U.S. has created a monster, but now everyone has to deal with it.

For example, CFDP published an article by former Russian Minister of Foreign Affairs Yevgeny Primakov who argues that “the whole chain of expansions and the victorious march of the Islamic State is in large measure the result of the politics of the U.S., which intervened in Iraq."

"The intervention by the U.S. has brought Iraq into chaos," he claims. "It is not possible to justify the fact that the short-sighted, to put it nicely, policies of the United States has enabled the arming of those very same radical-terrorists who then turned their arms against the U.S. Overall the situation is quite serious and it undoubtedly requires the cohesion of states, first and foremost the permanent members of the UN Security Council, in the struggle against Islamic State formations. No disagreements, including over the ‘Ukrainian question’ should interfere in the fight with international terrorism.”

Yuri Zinin of MGIMO-University discusses who, in general, can stop this wave of aggression, also underscoring the negative role of the U.S. in fomenting the spread of ISIS.

“ISIS has picked up the baton of violence, has increased tensions, and in essence has become independent from its sponsoring supporters, having turned into an independent formation threatening everyone around it," he wrote. "But even at the beginning of the Arab Spring the authorities in Libya and Syria warned that external military intervention and the support of the internal Islamic opposition would inevitably lead to the Afghanization of the conflict. However, their voices where not heard behind the powerful rhetoric of ‘fighting dictators for freedom and democracy’ that was raised in the region and throughout the world. The maelstrom of events has now shown the validity of such warnings.”

RIAC provides an interesting opinion of the Iranian expert Mehdi Dehnavi.

“By all appearances, the outcome of the new war on terror depends on the actions of a bloc of countries headed by the U.S., and on the results of these actions," he said. "Western Europe apparently supports American policy, as it nearly always does. If an alliance of such influential and powerful states as Russia and Iran ... does not provide assistance in solving the problem, hope for the success of these efforts is next to nil.”

Understanding the growing role of the SCO

The Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) summit held in September was also one of the events most discussed. Experts think that SCO member states are trying to play a more significant role in resolving international crises.

Head of CFDP Fyodor Lukyanov thinks that international conditions can significantly affect the role of the organization as well as the positions of its individual members. In particular, as he points out, China, which has been against India’s entry into the SCO, may now change its stance since the membership of such large and important countries as India can lend the organization more weight.

“If the entry takes place, the SCO will drastically increase its influence," he argues. "In China they now generally understand that in the prevailing circumstances, regional organizations, especially ones of such magnitude as the SCO, are acquiring great significance and that the demand for such organizations is only going to grow.”

MGIMO-University analyst Elena Ponomareva says that the SCO is striving to distinguish itself in contrast with other regional organizations and display its effective character.

“With their decisions and actions, the SCO member states and their allies are ‘calling for the building of a world free from war, conflicts, aggression, and pressure, for the development of the all-sided, equal, and mutually beneficial cooperation of the international community, and for the achievement of common, comprehensive, cooperative, and sustainable security that takes into account the legitimate interests of all states.’ Only time will tell if this appeal is heard by the U.S. and other NATO countries.”

Another expert from MGIMO-University, Sharbatullo Sodikov, agrees with her. He emphasizes, “It is possible to confidently say that in the near future the SCO will become the most agile center of forces in the global financial and political system.”

Putting the Scottish separatist movement into context

"Yes" and "No" voters wait for Scotland's First Minister Alex Salmond to do a walkabout in Perth, central Scotland, September 12, 2014. Photo: Reuters

Finally, Russian think tanks analyzed the reasons for and consequences of the referendum in Scotland. Discussing what influenced the referendum results, MGIMO expert Henry Sardaryan notes the large role played by British politicians of Scottish origin (for example, former British Prime Minister Gordon Brown), who appealed not once to the Scots’ faculties of reason but rather to their hearts, in contrast to UK Prime Minsiter David Cameron and his deputy Nick Clegg.

“There were a significant number of such assessments over the last few months," Sardaryan wrote. "They sounded off more persuasive arguments than the supporters of independence. All the same, the success of Better Together became evident only at the end of the campaign when politicians entered the arena, not economists. Moreover, the fracture occurred when emblematic political figures of Scottish origin declared their rejection of independence.”

Sardaryan’s colleague at MGIMO-University, Natalia Kapitonova, encourages to think about the political consequences of the aborted secession.

“The failure of the supporters of independence for Scotland at the referendum, it seems, will have to cool the ardor a little of the inhabitants of other countries of Europe – Spain, Belgium, Italy – who are trying to attain the same goal," she wrote. "But if the outcome had been different, the parade of referendums in other countries would not have been stoppable. Much in this area will depend on the result of the referendum in Catalonia, which – despite Madrid’s opposition – will be held on Nov. 9 of this year in accordance with the decision made by the parliament of this autonomous region of Spain. There is not long to wait.”

CFDP's Fyodor Lukyanov talks about how often we witness the irony of fate within the context of geopolitics.

“Europe is no stranger to the problems of separatism and nationalism," he argues. "All of the current foci emerged decades or even centuries ago. However, after the Cold War, it began to seem to many in the West, riding on the wave of the euphoria of victory and of building a new world, that the difficulties of nation-state self-determination was the inheritance of former Communist countries, that it was the lot of the periphery rather than the core."

"However, having had a good stroll through the spaces of the former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, the impulse for national renewal has come to visit the rest of the continent," he added. "It is symbolic that the Catalan independence movement chose as its hymn a song by the Latvian composer Martins Brauns with words by Yan Rainis that were popular among Baltic fighters who fought for independence from Russia. It has come full circle and Madrid, London, and others now have to wrack their brains over the same things that Soviet and Russian leaders thought about.”