The third day of the Valdai Club Annual Meeting in Sochi was very eventful in terms of the diverse array of topics. Experts discussed Russia's experience in the Middle East, posed questions to Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, spoke about the existential fears that result from migration, figured out how modern Asia works, and also tried to outline the contours of the future, in light of the 'industrialisation 4.0' approach. We'll provide details in our analytical note.
The Middle East in the general context of Russian politics
The only open discussion on October 2 was devoted to the Middle East in the context of Russian politics. Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, one of the session’s speakers, recalled that the Valdai Club’s annual report, which was discussed during the first session of the Valdai Club’s meeting, says that “non-interference in internal affairs now is just words, not the normal behaviour", and that "the sovereignty of states no longer limits others in their actions". These theses are confirmed by the experience of Libya, Iraq, Iran.
The Middle East has become a platform for reckless experiments, which have led to tragic consequences. All the US interventionist campaigns are designed to make the world behave the way Washington wants. And the Americans keep stepping on the same rake: in the 1970s and 1980s, the USA supported the Mujahideen in Afghanistan. As a result, Al-Qaeda appeared (banned in the Russian Federation), which “thanked” the US for all its help by launching the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. Thanks to the Americans, the terrorists were given carte blanche, but the Americans did not understand that it was impossible to keep terror under control. Iraq and Libya were to follow.
It is curious, that US activity in the region did not cause a violent reaction from the Western world, but as soon as Russia appeared on the scene, its Western colleagues began to actively express their dissatisfaction, demonstrating double standards. They looked at the situation not from the point of view of security, but from the point of view of geopolitical struggle. They accused the Syrian government of every mortal sin they could. Russia is ready to work with everyone who is capable of such a partnership. In Aleppo, Russia was able to clear the mines as quickly as possible and help people return to leading a peaceful life. Nothing like this happened in Raqqa, where the Americans played their own game. When the policy of Russia bore fruit, progress appeared in relations with Western colleagues. Through clenched teeth, they welcomed the initiative to create the Syrian Constitutional Committee, which was put forward as part of the Astana peace process (Russia, Turkey, Iran) at the Syrian Congress of National Dialogue in Sochi. This was similarly done through clenched teeth - because the head of the European Union did not mention the contribution of the Astana troika to this process.
One way or another, work is going on, and constitutional reform should become the foundation of the upcoming elections. The Astana trio will ensure that the Syrians make a decision without outside interference, Lavrov stressed.
“We urge the West to analyse all errors. I mean this in the sense of the great Winston Churchill, relying on his wisdom. Because among other aphorisms, he once said: 'You can always count on the Americans to do the right thing after they have tried everything else.' I hope that he will be right this time as well,” the foreign minister said.
Now Washington has a new victim: it is trying to crack down on Iran, in a typical example of its disregard for international law. Not only isn't the USA itself complying with the UN Security Council resolution, it is forcing other countries to forsake their own obligations. According to Lavrov, it is beneficial for Washington to maintain constant turbulence: the longer the conflicts last, the higher the demand for American weapons, offering more opportunities for all kinds of manipulations. Americans are good merchants. Their logic is the following: either buy, or we will pinch you in other directions.
Not so long ago, Mohammad Javad Zarif spoke impartially about his European partners - INSTEX exists only on paper; the EU countries have expressed their readiness to use it for trade with Iran, but not a single transaction has been completed. Zarif quoted one of his European interlocutors, who said bluntly that without the permission of the Americans, the Europeans could not do anything. Therefore, Iran is responding to the helplessness of its European counterparts by stepping back from its obligations, which were voluntarily undertaken in the framework of the JCPOA. So far, it has not violated any of the obligations. Everything that Iran does, it does under the control of the IAEA.
And while no one really wants a military confrontation with Iran, security must be ensured in the Persian Gulf. Answering a question posed by Vitaly Naumkin, academician of the Russian Academy of Sciences, about how Iran could be helped, Lavrov recalled that in July Russia introduced a collective security programme in the Persian Gulf, which aims to reduce the threat of war in the region, and is ready to cooperate with those who want it.
Vladimir Legoyda, Chairman of the Department for Church Society and Mass Media Relations at the Russian Orthodox Church, noted during the session that in the Middle East, Russia is perceived as the only state that protects the interests of Christians in the region at all international venues. Lavrov, in turn, recalled that in 2014, the OSCE adopted a declaration on increasing efforts to combat anti-Semitism. At the same time, Russia called for the adoption of similar documents on the inadmissibility of discrimination against Christians and Muslims, but some Western countries blocked this initiative, claiming it was politically incorrect. However, Russia continues to work in this direction.
Lavrov stressed that, unlike the United States, Russia did not come to the Middle East in order to expand its influence. Russian activity in the Middle East has not led to the demarcation of ethnic groups and faiths. Russia does not impose its geopolitical plans on the region; it is fighting for peace and security. And only for the sake of this will it seek to maintain its influence in Syria. In the end, every war ends with dialogue.
“We are not scolding the West in order to derive pleasure from it. We don't seek to shame it, but to offer specific facts that illustrate that this has happened more than once. And again, pursuing confrontation in an attempt to solve one's own problems and split countries, societies, and regions is not very good,” the foreign minister said, referring to the participants in the Middle East session.
All other discussions of the Valdai Club were conducted according to Chatham House rules, which, in general, do not prevent you from familiarising yourself with the main conclusions of the experts. The seventh session was devoted to migration, and it was no less interesting.
Migration: How the world is changing under the influence of migration
Migration is one of the most important drivers of political turmoil in the Western world. The failure of governments to solve the problems of migrants, many of whom arrive as refugees, leads to an increase of radical right-wing attitudes. For the West, this problem is more important than tension in relations with Russia or China. As one of the experts noted, “maybe we are impressed by the Valdai Club report, but the Roman Empire fell due to the invasion of the Huns.”
The Western world has realised that white Christians will soon become a minority. Society is witnessing an existential fear. It is necessary to establish control over borders that are not controlled - they are full of holes, like a sieve. If the migrant flow does not stop, then ultra-patriots will come to power, and this will be a genuinely scary event.
The speaker, representing one of the European countries, turned to his Russian colleagues, who, in his opinion, had experienced schadenfreude when Donald Trump was elected US President and hoped that Marie Le Pen would come to power in France and the EU would fall apart. "What do you want?" he asked. "For the German government turns into an “Alternative for Germany”? If I were Russian, I would remember history and would not want white supremacists to come to power again. ”
A Russian expert answered him, saying Russia isn't experiencing schadenfreude, but pity. Yes, there was a period when, against the backdrop of turbulent processes, it seemed that new forces (populists, nativists) would radically change their policies regarding Russia. However, that time has passed. Now it is clear that this is not a priority for them. Now Russia is simply watching to see what happens with the Western countries when the transformation ends, and it is also unclear how to interact with them.
Another European speaker noted that people had developed a demographic-themed narrative - something that had not been the case before. Migration is not about migrants, but about the fear and anxiety that it causes. The expert quoted the Dagestani poet Rasul Gamzatov: "And if my language disappears tomorrow, // I’m ready to die today."
According to the expert, the problem is not even how to stop the flows, but how to choose people who can be allowed to enter the country. According to what principle? In this regard, migration is also an opportunity for political manipulation.
In Poland, for example, there are two million migrants; 1.7 million of them are Ukrainians. Migrants are potential voters, politicians can easily exploit this electorate. If the government allows a certain group of people to enter, then who will they vote for, these happy people? Right! As they say, the government cannot switch countries, but it can choose a new people.
Another expert agreed with this thesis. He emphasised that everything doesn’t end with the choice: after allowing the “right” migrants to enter, you need to decide what rights can be granted to them. Refugees usually do not participate in such debates, as they are part of the problem, not part of the solution. Their arrival may backfire on the host country. Policy failures in the integration of immigrants stem from the fact that immigrants are often more conservative and radical than their compatriots in their homeland (Turks in Germany). Nevertheless, there are successful examples: Canada and Australia both select highly-skilled, value-added migrants.
Russia ranks third in the world in terms of the number of migrants, but only ranks 102nd in terms of their share in the population (8%). According to one of the experts, it copes well with the integration of migrants, despite the fact that it does not have a special policy. A key indicator is the share of second-generation migrants with a higher education - in Russia it is 48% (19% in Belgium, 22% in France). Unlike in Western countries, ghettos haven't emerged in Russia, and the children of migrants are socialised in mixed schools. This was made possible thanks to the Soviet legacy.
How Asia Works. Asia-Pacific, Indo-Pacific and Other Strategic Constructs
Valdai Club experts from the leading countries of this part of the world and the USA discussed how Asia is organised.
The international environment in Asia is unique; there are no rigid blocs and alliances. Russia is interested in maintaining this environment. Russia's foreign policy in Asia is dictated by the development goals of Russia itself. One of the tools of this development is the integration of the Far East and Siberia into Asia's system of international economic relations. Russia is open, waiting for investments into the Far East and is ready for dialogue. Against the backdrop of the confrontation between China and the United States, Russia is calling for cooperation between all Asian partners. It faces a difficult task: to avoid alliances with specific partners and not to compel small and medium-sized states in the region to make decisions against their will.
Therefore, the integration policy should not be pursued by force, but by stimulating the interests of Asian states. Russia's main export product is not gas or oil, but the creation of an open, comfortable environment for Asian countries.
In their rejection of bloc thinking, two other leading players are unanimous: China and India.
The term "alliance" in China generally has a negative connotation. Those who enter into alliances from the Chinese point of view are “bad guys” by default. This must be understood and accepted (The United States did not understand this and feels aggrieved).
China is sceptical about the prospects of creating amultilateral security architecture in Northeast Asia: there are too many contradictions between the leading players in the region - China, Japan and South Korea.
Perhaps in the future, it will be possible to build sub-regional security cooperation. However, bilateral agreements can be now more successful. The reason is that it is much more difficult to establish relations via a system of multilateral cooperation.
India sees itself as a leading provider of security in the Indian Ocean region. And therefore it is wrong to talk about it in the context of the Non-Aligned Movement.
India is also not going to enter into alliances with anyone and is not going to join a framework dominated by China. It will move from one camp to another, depending on its interests, and wants to be perceived as a balancer.
Perhaps the SCO could serve as a unifying link in terms of creating a common security system - especially after the entry of India and Pakistan. But another (non-Asian) player, the United States, has tangible influence in the region. A trade war broke out between the US and China, and Washington is trying to create mechanisms that could slow down China’s rise. Previously US policy had been aimed at helping integrate China's economy into the global economy. But now Beijing has begun to take advantage of this integration, and the United States is unhappy with the arrangement.
The United States considers China’s actions in the South China Sea as a threat to freedom of navigation and is trying to impose its vision on the countries of Southeast Asia, which are worried about the prospect of confrontation between the great powers and do not want to be in a position where they have to choose between China and the United States.
The confrontation between China and the United States can be called the biggest security threat in Asia. Therefore, these countries need to overcome their political differences. And sub-regional organisations - the EAEU, SCO and ASEAN - must find a formula for unification in order to address common development goals.
War for the future: how technology has become the subject of confrontation
The final session of the third day of the Valdai Club Annual meeting was dedicated to the war for the future - and the role of technology. As experts emphasised, “technology does not mean war,” but it is a tool that allows us more or less successfully to participate in a particular confrontation: a political, religious and social one. And it's necessary to move from the concept of "fight" to the concept of "construction".
Industrialisation 4.0 is coming. What changes are happening in the world in connection with this? There are, for example, geopolitical ones. Governments are becoming the hegemon of yesterday. They are able to control territory, but today it is more important to control the data flow. Digital platforms know more about citizens than their governments. This presents a huge array of opportunities for profiling, manipulating, and creating preferences among citizens.
In the modern world, you can either connect to someone else’s digital ecosystem (but depend on it), create your own, or combine them. Now there are two such ecosystems – a Chinese one and an American one. Russia should unite with Europe to become an alternative system.
Incidentally, Russia is one of only several countries to offer a full range of its own Internet services. Foreign Internet companies have always been present on the Russian market, but domestic services have withstood competition. In some areas, Russia leads. The world's best digital tax system has been created. Moscow has become the largest car-sharing city in the world. Russia is exporting its smart city and e-government projects. Russia is among the top three potential leaders in the development of unmanned vehicles.
However, technology gives rise not only to new opportunities, but also new concerns. Due to robot automation, thousands of people will remain unemployed. One way out of this situation is to offer lifelong learning, and investing in education. In addition, digitalisation requires more and more energy, increasing the pressure on electric grids. Therefore, traditional energy remains important. Also, when investing in the development of technology, it is worth remembering that you cannot have dinner, for example, with your smartphone, even in the digital world. We need to take care of people, their health and their well-being, and not just improve the machines.
According to experts, countries will only be able to live in the digital world if they find answers to new challenges in the world of cross-border data flows, and preserve their ecosystem without slipping into ignorant traditionalism and archaic ways.
This year, the Annual Meeting of the Valdai Discussion Club will last four days - from September 30th through October 4th. Almost all sessions will traditionally be held according to the Chatham House Rule. But we will prepare analytical notes for you each day. You can watch online broadcasts of the most interesting discussions on our website.
17:00 - 19:00 Plenary session. The World Order, Seen from the East
The schedule of all discussions and speakers can be found in the Programme.