Dmitry Trenin: “Russia’s confrontation with the West will not end in the near future.”

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Russia is among the leading actors which defend the multipolarity in the internalitional politics. For this reason, the adminastration of Moscow wants to maintain its effect in the Post-Soviet field within the framework of “Near Environment Doctrine”. Conversely, the West is looking for ways to limit Russia. Thus, the power struggle between Russia and the West manifests itself in the migrant crisis on the Belarus-Poland border; on the other hand, the Ukraine-based developments bring Western actors, especially Moscow and Washington, face to face. Besides, Russia gives the green light to projection of cooperation formulated as 3+3 in the Caucasus-centered developments and actually tries to push the exterritorial actors out of regional progresses.

In this context, the Ankara Crisis and Politics Center (ANKASAM) presents the Carnegie Moscow Center Director Dr. Dmitri Trenin’s views on Russian foreign policy to your attention.

Russian President Vladimir Putin said at the expanded meeting of the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs on November 18, 2021 that the tension on the European border should be ended. How long do you think the conflict between Russia and the West will last? Why can’t there be a way out of this situation? In your book “The New Balance of Power” you say that Russia likes this situation. Who do you think is the culprit here?

Thank you for mentioning my new book. What I describe in the book is an attempt to evaluate Moscow’s current position in the world and the prospects for the next 10 years. The conflict between Russia and the United States (USA) has serious geopolitical and (mainly from the West) ideological grounds, and therefore tensions cannot be said to end anytime soon. The USA and most of the West will not accept a way out of this situation based on reconciliation with Russia. At the same time, the withdrawal of the Kremlin is unacceptable for Russia. Such a situation forces Moscow to focus, mobilize resources and strengthen itself even more. First of all, Russia needs to pay attention to its economic and technological development, efficiency of production, consumption and management. In particular, it is important to renew and improve the quality of the political elite. It is useless to talk about who is guilty and who is innocent.

In whose interests does the migration crisis on the Belarus-Polish border serve? Belarus accuses Polyakov of this subject. Poles, on the other hand, directly charges Moscow. What is the real reason for the tension between Europe and Russia-Belarus?

The border crisis is Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko’s response to Poland and other European Union (EU) countries that support the Belarusian opposition after the 2020 elections, and stems from his desire to force European leaders to meet with him again. However, Lukashenko was able to partially reach his goals. By putting pressure on Poland, he forced them to take a hard line against illegal immigration. He received phone calls from German Chancellor Angela Merkel and met with the head of EU Diplomacy of the Belarusian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Poland and Lithuania, on the other hand, acted as the protectors of Europe against threats from the east. Moscow, which is not directly involved in the migration crisis, does not benefit from it; again, it was exposed to criticism from the EU and the USA. The real reason for the tension between the EU and Russia is that Moscow is following a path towards integration with Belarus within the framework of a virtual union state for now, while the EU supports the forces in Belarus that want to move away from Russia and get closer to Europe.

When it comes to Moscow’s Caucasus policy, it is seen that Russia is interested in the “3+3” format. Can a stable integration project be realized with this format? Which role is Russia ready to play in this regard and how will it benefit itself?

The format of 3+3 is only a theoretical possibility for now. It can be foreseen that various negotiations will be made in this format. For Moscow, there are two more states in the South Caucasus. These are Abkhazia and South Ossetia, which other states consider to be part of Georgia. Moscow has properly defined the economic and commercial cooperation in the region as the mutual benefits of all states. However, it should take into account jeopolitical facts, lines of power and the nationalist sentiments which precede concerns of economic interest most of the time. For Moscow, geopolitical stability in the South Caucasus and economic cooperation, especially along the north-south line, are very beneficial. Moscow acts as a mediator between Baku and Yerevan; it maintains close contact with Armenia and develops partnership relations with Azerbaijan within the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU) and Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO). It supports Abkhaz and Ossetians and protects them from Tbilisi. It has also succeded in deepening the realitions with Turkey and Iran.

Donbas is one of the most critical regions in the Russian border. It is thought that there might be a war between Moscow and Kiev. Ukraine is becoming distant from Russia day by day. So does this condition suit the benefits of Russia? Russia has clearly stated that it does not want a war to come up in its border. However, the footsteps of the war are also felt. The Normandy format, aimed at resolving the war in Donbas, also no longer works. What do you think about this?

Donbas is not a war; it is an unresolved conflict. However, a war could break out in the region. There may be a conflict between Ukraine-Russia in particular and West-Russia in general. The administration in Kiev is anti-Russian. It clearly displays a pro-Western position and seeks to break with Moscow. This situation, of course, poses a danger to Russia. The Kremlin has no intention of starting a war against Ukraine. But Russia, if Kiev attempts to take Donbas under military control, it will not hesitate to respond. We saw a similar situation when Russia took a stand against the invasion of South Ossetia by the Georgian Armed Forces on the orders of the Former President of Georgia Mihail Saakashvili in 2008. On the other hand, the Normandy format does not work as Paris and Berlin have recently supported Kiev. The only potential negotiation channel regarding the Donbas could be the dialogue between Moscow and Washington to be developed. It should be noted that the possibility of war in the Black Sea region, which came to the fore on the occasion of Ukraine, is very risky for everyone.

What should Russia, Ukraine and Europe (now the USA) do to resolve the issue of Kiev, which is an unnecessary crisis for Russia?

In the next meeting, the Presidents of Russia and the USA should focus on the Ukraine Issue and agree on the implementation of the Minsk Agreements. This is the only way. The President of Ukraine, Vladimir Zelensky, is not accepted as a party in Moscow. Germany and France are no longer seen by Russia as a power to force Ukraine to implement the Minsk Agreements.

Do you see any hope about this issue in the Russian-American negotiations?

There are hopes for the normalization in principle of the work of diplomatic missions on Ukraine. However, the implementation of these policies primarily requires the political will of the President of the United States. At the working level, only progress has been made on issues such as strategic stability and climate policy.

An interview on our website is the personal opinion of expert and may not reflect the institutional view of Ankara Center for Crisis and Policy Research (ANKASAM).

The original version of this interview was published on The Asia Today on 04.12.2021.

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Lisans öğrenimini Ankara Üniversitesi Siyasal Bilgiler Fakültesi Uluslararası İlişkiler bölümünde tamamlayan Dr. Sabir Askeroğlu, yüksek lisans derecesini Ankara Üniversitesi Sosyal Bilimler Enstitüsü Uluslararası İlişkiler Anabilim Dalı’nda almıştır. Doktora eğitimini İstanbul Üniversitesi Sosyal Bilimler Enstitüsü Siyaset Bilimi ve Uluslararası İlişkiler Anabilim Dalı’nda tamamlayan Dr. Askeroğlu, çeşitli düşünce kuruluşlarında görev yapmıştır. Başlıca ilgi alanları, Avrasya çalışmaları ve Rus dış politikası olan Dr. Askeroğlu, iyi derecede Rusça ve İngilizce bilmektedir.