Russian Geopolitics and Economy Discussions

Test7

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Alexander Mikheyev, CEO of the Russian Defence Export Authority Rosoboronexport, made the remarks ahead of the 2020 International Military and Technical Forum event.

Mikheyev said they plan to introduce nearly 50 new weapons systems to the world market. "In the next five or six years, Rosoboronexport plans to deliver almost 50 new weapon systems to the international arms market. These are final products involving air defence systems, combat and military transport aircraft, and also the armour, naval hardware and artillery," he said.

He added that Rosoboronexport plans to continue deliveries of Sukhoi Su-35 fighter jets by 2020.

"Among final products in 2020, the deliveries of Su-30MKI, Su-35 and MiG-29M/M2 fighters are planned," the chief executive said, without naming the purchasing countries.

 
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People want me to comment on Navalny.

I have avoided doing so because I just don’t know. There are plenty of other people who don’t know either but are writing about it anyway so why would I waste my time and your time on this.

I don’t know what the poison was. It probably was a poison, at least one of the Omsk doctors’ versions that it was caused by a sudden fall in blood sugar levels due to fasting is ridiculous. There are date rape drugs that make people act in uninhibited ways, as if mildly drunk. A couple of weeks ago, I speculated that perhaps one of Prigozhin’s goons – perhaps the same ones who had splashed Navalny with zelyonka back in 2017 – slipped some sodium oxybate or custom derivative thereof into his tea. Being low tier goons, they overestimated the dosage and what they hoped would be a discrediting video of airplane debauchery turned into a life-threatening emergency. But perhaps novichok, sure, why not. Russia produces novichok. But it’s hardly some super-secret chemical weapon, the formulae are well-known, nothing stopping other countries and actors from producing it. I am not any kind of biochemist so I am not in a position to assess the claims of that German clinic. I would imagine that maintaining a conspiracy of silence amongst dozens of medical staff in what is, all things said and done, an “open society”, would be very far from trivial to put it mildly.

I don’t know who poisoned Navalny. Maybe it was Putler, to eliminate or incapacitate the “leader of the opposition” (as he is presented, not entirely accurately but neither entirely inaccurately, in the Western media). Maybe it was rogue elements within the intelligence services. (Not sure any of them would willingly stick their necks out like that, though). Or maybe it was a faction within the Kremlin that happened to want to settle its own scores with Navalny. There are persistent rumors and some circumstantial evidence that Navalny is the sieve through which the siloviks keep liberal technocrats in line by spilling kompromat on them in the form of Navalny’s ceaseless “corruption investigations” (which have never touched on Igor Sechin [AK: There has been one video, h/t here], long considered the #2 after Putin in Russia’s power structures). That’s not the world’s safest occupation, even if Putin is your secret BFF.

I also don’t know what will come out of it in the long run. On the one hand, a non-lethal poisoning that Official Russia will deny had anything to do with it is not quite the same as a successful assassination. On the other hand, Navalny could well become the next big “Victim of the Regime”, replacing Magnitsky in that capacity. This is especially likely if Biden wins the US Presidency this November. Germany could use this as a convenient pretext to finally shut down Nord Stream, after Russia has already invested $10 billion into it. Or perhaps it will be used to cockblock Russia from annexing Belarus – much like, perhaps, grander plans for Novorossiya in 2014 may have been torpedoed by that unfortunate incident with the Malaysian airliner (there are rich conspiracy theories over what exactly Burkhalter communicated to Putin a day before he withdrew his authorization for the use of military force in Ukraine). Though the two goals would seem to rather go against each other – if Nord Stream is shut down, which would represent not just a significant financial loss but also a major political humiliation, then securing Belarus would become all the more important.

I just don’t know and neither do any of the high profile hacks writing about this and probably even many of the key players are not that clued in either.

However, the one concrete observation I would make, and one which I will admit is not even original to myself but which I first saw come from Egor Prosvirnin, but one which I nonetheless has hardly been made in the Anglosphere, is that this episode marks an end to Navalny’s political career. And not because he might still die, nor because he might become physically or mentally incapacitated, nor even because the kremlins, Ramzan Kadyrov, the CIA, the Jews, or the reptiloids (cross out as per your particular obsession) will have successfully intimidated him from further participation in political life. No, I am reasonably sure he will continue his corruption investigations, and I even sooner expect than don’t expect him to return to politicking in Russia.

Navalny’s big problem is that his entire image is built on him being a “man of the people” revealing how Russia’s oligarchs and regime insiders preach solidarity and “spiritual values” (духовные скрепы) within while maintaining Italian villas and holidaying in Courchevel and getting treated in elite European hospitals without. This is the last remaining thing about Navalny that could potentially make him appealing to the popular masses in the event that Putin and his system somehow becomes massively discredited and delegitimized. His current “base” within Russia are radical SJWs who hate their own country and its cultural and religious traditions, and who are far more radical than Navalny himself on these questions (this is not an exaggeration – read the highly agitated Twitter replies to him wishing his flock a Happy Easter, or expressing condolences on the death of Russian nationalist Konstantin Krylov). He’ll get their support, but that’s ~2% of the population. Although Navalny used to express ethnonationalist rhetoric, infamously comparing Gastarbeiters to cockroaches in one video, that was more than a decade ago – only kremlinoid hacks still push the tired old propaganda that he is some kind of nationalist or even Nazi when all of his closest confidants have long become internationalist, multi-national neolibs. Certainly almost no Russian nationalists have considered him as one of their own since 2014, when he supported the Ukraine over Russia on Crimea (not that Ukrainians themselves appreciated the gesture, many of whose own nationalists expressed approval of his poisoning in one of the many weird horseshoes you see in identity politics).

So again, I repeat, Navalny has no popularity amongst any major ideological Russian groups apart from very online schoolchildren, university students, and Western NGO employees. But what he does still have is his image as the consummate populist, living in an “ordinary” Moscow apartment, suffering the “hardships” of the common folk (if not with his daughter, whom he sent off to an American Ivy school) while pointing out the Russian elite’s manifold and undeniable hypocrisies and rootlessness. This might not be very relevant while Putinism remains strong, but it could suddenly become very relevant in the event of its complete or even partial discreditation, as happened with Yanukovych in 2013-14 and with Lukashenko in 2020.

But here’s the problem. No ordinary Russian is ever going to be airlifted out of a dumpy hospital in a Siberian rustbelt city into one of Germany’s top clinics, paid for by the Zimin family (founders of major Russian telecoms company Beeline) and at the personal invitation of Chancellor Merkel herself. And not just any ordinary Russian – not even any Russian high official. The closest example from amongst the Russian “elites” that would come to mind is… the DNR supporter and washed out Soviet-era crooner Kobzon. Hilariously, Navalny has de facto ended up far more “apatride” than any of the big targets of his political invective in the past decade.

Though TBH, this almost makes me sad for Navalny… he was in a comma, so the decision was hardly his own choice, but presumably belonged to his wife, Yulia Navalnaya. His situation at the Omsk hospital had stabilized, it was clear he was not going to die by the time he was medically evacuated. Navalny could have been evacuated to a private Moscow clinic, there are several of them that are at the level of Charité, the German clinic where he was subsequently treated and diagnosed with Novichok poisoning. But Berlin it had to be. In fulfilling her spousal duty of care to her husband, Navalny’s wife inadvertently – in all likelihood – torpedoed his future chances of becoming a second Yeltsin.

Incidentally, this is also the most succinct explanation for why the kremlins had no objections to sending Navalny to Germany.
 
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Russia cannot tolerate internal strife while the US/NATO keeps getting closer and closer to its borders with more and more troops. Georgia, Ukraine, Belarus... What's next, Kaliningrad? Putin enjoys overwhelming popularity and his rule will last until he dies or finally decides to appoint a successor.
 

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Iran's foreign minister, who mocked US efforts to renew the embargo, is headed to Moscow Thursday.

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An Iranian woman walks past a mural on the wall of the former US Embassy in the Iranian capital Tehran on May 8, 2018. Photo by ATTA KENARE/AFP via Getty Images


Sep 22, 2020


A top Russian official said today his government will pursue military cooperation with Iran once the United Nations arms embargo on the Middle Eastern country expires in October.

“New opportunities will emerge in our cooperation with Iran after the special regime imposed by UN Security Council Resolution 2231 expires on Oct. 18,” said Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov, according to Russia’s Interfax news agency. Ryabkov did not elaborate on the nature of the cooperation.

Why it matters: The move is a poke in the eye to the United States, which proved unable last month to convince even its closest allies in the UN Security Council to renew the international arms embargo on Iran, despite Tehran’s expanded conventional ballistic missile program and support for militias in regional conflicts.

The United States says it has triggered a snapback of UN sanctions in response to the failure to renew the arms embargo. On Sunday, however, France, Germany and the United Kingdom said the unilateral re-imposition had no legal validity.


Russia has argued that because the United States pulled out of the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran in 2018, Washington is not eligible to reimpose sanctions on Tehran.


The Trump administration insists the move is binding because the United States remains a signatory of UN Security Council Resolution 2231, which put the nuclear deal into force.
What’s next: Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif is headed to Moscow on Thursday to meet with Sergey Lavrov, the Kremlin’s foreign minister.
On Monday, top US officials including Secretary State Mike Pompeo and Defense Secretary Mark Esper unveiled a slew of new measures designed to dissuade international businesses and foreign governments from cooperating with Tehran on future military endeavors.
Zarif said on Monday the US efforts would prove futile.
Know more: Ben Caspit writes that Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz’ visit to Washington today is aimed at solidifying Washington’s resolve amid fears that Iranian leaders may prove willing to meet a future Joe Biden administration at the negotiating table.

 
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A previous MEMRI Special Dispatch[1] reported that Russian liberals believe that the crisis in Belarus and the attempted poisoning of Alexei Navalny had exhausted the West's patience for Russia, with the assumption that this impatience will be translated into harsher sanctions. However, this view is challenged by many in Russia. Understandably, this opinion is widely held by regime backers but one can also encounter it among liberals who take a dim view of Western backbone. One of the best statements of Russian liberal pessimism was penned by Mk.ru's veteran correspondent Aleksander Minkin who wrote: "The European democracies did nothing about the events in Belarus, except for polite statements, they 'watched'. Just as clever passers-by stand aside, watching a gang of lowlifes beat a woman, they condemn, but no one intervenes.
"Polite statements don't matter. These states are always so clever. Let's not forget how on August 19, 1991 they recognized the State Emergency Committee [the organizers of the coup against Mikhail Gorbachev], and on August 21 (two days later!) They recognized Yeltsin.
The citizens of Russia have learned a lesson (and not for the first time!): The world will not help us."[2] Political scientist Lilya Sheftsova recalled that "the Western response to Russia most often turns out to be a soap bubble. It becomes a reason for Moscow to shrug its shoulders and grin" [3].Conservative writers believed that Europe was divided, exhausted from previous unsuccessful attempts at intervention, realized that Russia could not be bullied and attempts to punish Russia would backfire against themselves. Additionally, Russia expected to make hay out of the Western legal process to evade punishment. A survey of conservative opinion discounting the prospects of serious Western intervention follows below


In this cartoon in Dw.com's Russian service, the cartoonist Sergei Elkin has Chancellor Angela Merkel telling Putin "We demand an investigation on who poisoned Navalny" Putin responds Ya! [I did it] Oy that is ja, ja! (The Russian word for I and the German word for yes sounds the same)
It Will Hurt Us More Than Russia
Russia Today cited the German economist Gabriel Febelmeyer who opposes steps against the Nordstream pipeline. As the economist notes, sanctions have a good chance of success when a large party or a large coalition imposes them against a small country. This means that Russia or, for example, China are bad targets for penalties. In addition, Febelmeyer noted that, starting in 2014, Russia managed to surprisingly quickly become independent from a large number of imported products. For example, we managed to reform the agrarian sector at a very fast pace and avoid rising food prices.[4]
The West Is Tired And Divided
In a series of articles for Vzglyad Gevorg Mirzayan, associate professor at the Financial University's Department of Political Science and Mass Communications University explained that the West did not extend full fledged support for the protests in Belarus and explained the reason for its restrained approach:
"On 19 August at the [emergency] EU summit, Charles Michel, head of the European Council said: 'The elections on August 9 were neither fair nor transparent. We do not recognize the results of the elections published by the Belarusian authorities'. Following the meeting, the European Union imposed personal sanctions against 'a significant number of people responsible for the brutality, repression and election fraud'. EU member states are also likely to impose national sanctions individually.
"However, such results at the summit proved disappointing for the Belarusian opposition, because 'personal sanctions will not cause any particular inconvenience for the Belarusian elite':
"Firstly, because the local security forces and government officials affiliated with the president are unlikely to visit European countries now.
"Secondly, as “Deutsche Welle” newspaper correctly writes, 'Lukashenko lived under the sanctions. The ban on entering EU countries means nothing to the president, who can easily spend his vacation in Russian [resort city] Sochi.'
"The EU also allocated 53 million euros to help the protesters (94% of this amount will go to help "the country's business and health system affected by the coronavirus"). The victims (taking into account that about seven thousand people were detained during the protests) will receive about 2 million euros, and another 1 million euros will go to support the “independent media".
The EU limited itself to symbolic sanctions for the following reasons: "First of all, there was neither enthusiasm nor unity on the part of the West in the Belarusian issue. Not only was [opposition leader Svetlanaya] Tikhanovskaya not recognized as the elected president of Belarus - the EU did not even impose any serious sanctions against Lukashenko. And the United States in general withdrew itself from the process, and the staff of the American embassy did not hand out cookies to the protesters [as it did in Kiev during the "Orange Revolution"].
There was fatigue deriving from the fact that color revolutions were too expensive for Europe. Not so much in terms of [the original] investment as in terms of subsequent maintenance. The European Union was able to organize coups - but it failed to build exemplary societies in the post-Soviet states. Not a single country that experienced a color coup has turned into a beacon of democracy and economic prosperity in the post-Soviet space, and some (Moldova and Ukraine), on the contrary, collapsed into ruin.
"Moreover, the pro-European authorities of these countries, being to some extent children of the EU, have obviously discredited their parents. The Moldovans - by the fact that they stole 1 billion euros from the banking system of the country, and the Ukrainian ones - by the fact that they constantly put a spoke in the wheels of Russian-European relations and demanded new funds from Europe for their maintenance.
"These actions not only did not contribute to the strengthening of "colored" sentiments in the post-Soviet space - they, on the contrary, discouraged other countries from trying to arrange something similar. Without a doubt, the example of the Ukrainian Maidan and its consequences became the most important deterrent for the Belarusian protest - choosing between living with Lukashenka and turning their country into another Ukraine, Belarusians preferred the first, lesser evil.
"As for fear, it is fear of Russia. The Kremlin has learned some Ukrainian lessons and made it clear that it is ready to defend the Belarusian people from Western intervention. Given the extremely close relations between Belarus and Russia, the proximity of peoples (including cultural), as well as the existence of various treaties between states, Russian aid could take different forms - from supporting the Belarusian economy to the deployment of troops. The European Union calculated that the West has neither the will, nor the resources, nor the desire to defeat Russia in this confrontation - therefore, Europe has stepped aside. By demonstrating thereby to other "democrats" in the post-Soviet space - the liberal community in countries not yet affected by the Maidan, as well as to the pro-European elites in the states of the victorious revolution - the unwillingness to fight for their interests with Russia. And thereby discouraging them from playing the role of pawns in anti-Russian games."[5]
Sergei Markov, Director of the Institute for Political Studies, also ridiculed the EU response on Belarus: "They [the EU] refused to recognize Tikhanovskaya as president and thus showed that they did not support this puppet of Poland and Lithuania. (...) This is because Germany, France, the European bureaucracy of Brussels hate the authorities of the current conservative Poland, they do not want to strengthen Poland by allowing it to "seize" Belarus and are very afraid of the crazy ventures of both Warsaw and Kiev (which may end with Belarus joining Russia on the model of Crimea or Abkhazia)".
According to Markov, by not recognizing the elections in Belarus, the EU only pushed Lukashenko towards Moscow. Like Mirzayan, Markov scoffed at the "ridiculous" European financial commitment: "53 million will be allocated. From this sum, 3 will go to strikers, media and NGOs. And 50 - to hospitals to fight the coronavirus. I swear this is not a joke! An extraordinary EU summit on Belarus decided to allocate the main support to hospitals in Belarus. I think the doctors will be grateful to Lukashenko for this little help."
“Thus, the extraordinary EU summit on Belarus ended with a devastating victory of Alexander Lukashenko and a complete defeat for Poland, Lithuania and the pro-Western Belarusian opposition.” - concluded Markov.[6]
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Gevorg Mirzayan (Source: Ukraina.ru)
The German reaction after the Navalny affair took conservative opinion by surprise. Mk.ru's observer, Mikhail Rostovsky after criticizing the Russian leadership for not investigating the Navalny assassination attempt, still condemned the German reaction. "Official Berlin is not just trying to drive Moscow into a corner. It is driving itself, and Russian-German relations, and the Russian opposition into this very corner. The multibillion-dollar economic partnership between the RF and the FRG, which is extremely important for both countries, is officially becoming hostages of all sorts of 'accidents” - “accidents” that can easily be organized by various interested third forces and countries
He warned opponents of Putin that by appearing to support sanctions they were shooting themselves in the foot:
" A part of the Russian population will have a complete and absolute agreement with this question. They say there is no confidence in our government. Let the Germans do all the necessary work to damage Putin's power vertical!
"However, I must note that an absolute minority will think this way. The absolute majority, having heard about the German ultimatums, will shift their focus from the actual situation with Navalny to the attempts of foreign leaders to dictate to us what and how we should do inside our own country. Who will benefit from this? Definitely not the Russian opposition. For many years, the Russian government has tried to hang the label of a foreign agent on to any Russian citizen who does not like it...But it was impossible to completely solve this problem - until the very time when Angela Merkel was harnessed to the 'cart' and decided to 'protect' the Russian opposition."[7]
Merkel Will Find A Symbolic Way To Quiet Those Who Want To Punish Russia
Viktor Marakhovsky a Ria.ru, columnist predicted that Angela Merkel was looking for a one-off reaction to the Navalny affair resembling the glitzy but totally ineffective Tomahawk strike by Trump against the Assad regime and then get back to business.
" In the eyes of all these forces, the Berlin patient is a direct analogue of the multiple accusations against the Syrian authorities of chemical weapons usage, the video evidence of which was cleverly made by the notorious “White Helmets”. The pressure back then (especially in early 2017) on the newly inaugurated Donald Trump in order to force him to get involved in a full-scale war was enormous.
"But, as we remember, Trump got out of [that predicament] quite skillfully: he ordered a terrible and spectacular blow of dozens of Tomahawks at the Syrian airbase Al-Shayrat. That is, a media analogue of the terrible punishment was made, identical to the natural one; steel muscles were demonstrated; it has been shown that one shouldn’t mess with America, which is great once again. And the next day, Syrian Air Force planes began to take off again from the destroyed airbase, where (more likely as a result of accident) four people died. That is, revenge for the phantom crime against humanity was committed, and a big war was avoided.
"Now the German Chancellor is facing, in essence, a similar task - to try to find her own analogue to the 'strike on the Syrian airbase', only in the political and economic dimension. Keeping in mind that Russia is not Syria and there is no way attack, as well as the fact that cooperation with Moscow in the energy sector...is critical for the German economy and the basic welfare of its citizens." [8]
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Viktor Marakhovsky (Source: Newdaynews.ru)
Both Mirzayan and Komsomolskaya Pravda columnist and radio host Sergey Mardan warned against making concessions to Western demands over the Navalny affair. Mardan claimed that the human rights issue had been wielded against Russia since Soviet times and was an American tool to keep Europe in line.
"This is a decades-old strategy used by America against the Soviet Union. As soon as the USSR softened its policy, tried to establish serious economic and trade ties with Western Europe, "human rights", the Jackson-Vannik amendment, the Bukovsky and Sharansky case and others were used...
It may well be that the poisoning of Alexei Navalny is not even being used against Russia (or not only against Russia), but against the emerging political and military alliance between Germany and France, which do not really like the fact that Eastern European countries are actively building "separate" relations with the United States."[9]
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Sergey Mardan (Source: Kp.ru)
Mirzayan also claimed that concessions were futile and simply served as a baseline for new accusations: " Avoiding sanctions through a "what would you like [us to do]" will also fail. If solely because Western sanctions have long shifted from a method of inducement or coercion into a routine. Previously, they were an exceptional step, and the victim country understood that if it made a concession, the sanctions would be lifted and they would continue to do business with it. However, in Russia they now realize that sanctions are being adopted against it almost on schedule - and they present cases from long ago days as reasons. Russia's interference in the last US presidential elections, the Skripals case - everything for which Russia has already been punished –is turning into a reason for new punishments. In this situation, any concession will only lead to new threats of sanctions and demands – much more active demands– for new concessions, because the victim has shown a readiness to break.
Mirzayan: Turn This Into A Legal War Of Attrition
Instead, Mirzayan suggested that Russia finesse the issue by adopting a procedural-legal guerilla warfare. Confrontation was dangerous for Russia because this could lead to Russia's becoming a North Korea and, in that case, " the Kremlin, which has closed Europe for itself and found itself in a state of real semi-isolation, will have no choice but to become China's junior partner in realizing Chinese (not Russian, but Chinese) interests, and also satisfy Erdogan's wishes."
"The only winning strategy is humanitarian and legal. A two-directional line of behavior, within whose framework, Moscow first firmly transfers the matter from the emotional plane to the legal one. It....does not threaten the West with punishment for sanctions, but calmly demands from its European partners to provide data on Navalny's condition, evidence that the patient was poisoned, as well as reasons for the Russian Prosecutor General's Office to open a poisoning case. Within the framework of the second vector, Russian doctors express their full readiness to cooperate with Western partners.
"German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas has already said that 'there is no reason not to approve' the request of the Russian Federation to provide information on the poisoning of Navalny. And if Berlin recognized the basis of the Russian Federation to demand data on the poisoning, then it is logical to assume that it has no right to demand any action from Moscow before receiving and analyzing this data. This means that Russia cannot be punished right now for the absence of these actions - with sanctions, censures, etc... The Western reader may get a seditious impression that Russia is most interested in finding the truth in the Navalny case. This means that perhaps the Kremlin really has nothing to do with it."[10]
Ivan Timofeev, program director of the Valdai Club. At the same time, without the support of Russia, such actions are unlikely to be effective - for example, Moscow is unlikely to agree to let in experts from international organizations, where Western countries play a leading role.
Timofeev believed that theoretically, the EU can impose sanctions on key Russian enterprises or officials, but, most likely, it would await the provision of substantive evidence proving the involvement of any structures or persons in the poisoning of Navalny. "The application of sanctions of a general nature, that is, without reference to a specific offense, is not in the style of the European Union," Timofeev explained.[11]
[1] See MEMRI Special Dispatch No. 8927, Russian Liberal Writers Believe That The West Has Lost Patience With Putin After Belarus And Navalny, September 10.2020.
[2] Mk.ru, August 15, 2020.
[3] Echo.msk.ru, September 7, 2020.
[4] Russian.rt.com, September 9, 2020.
[5] Vz.ru, August 23, 2020.
[6] Aif.ru, August 20, 2020.
[7] Mk.ru, September 7, 2020.
[8] Ria.ru, September 5, 2020.
[9] Kp.ru, September 7, 2020.
[10] Vz.ru, September 7, 2020.
[11] Rbc.ru, September 7, 2020.
 

Test7

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As the United States withdraws its military forces from parts of Africa, the Middle East, and South Asia, Russia is expanding its influence in these and other areas. But instead of deploying conventional Russian soldiers, Moscow has turned to special operations forces, intelligence units, and private military companies (PMCs) like the Wagner Group to do its bidding. Russia’s strategy is straightforward: to undermine U.S. power and increase Moscow’s influence using low-profile, deniable forces like PMCs that can do everything from providing foreign leaders with security to training, advising, and assisting partner security forces.

Moscow’s use of PMCs has exploded in recent years, reflecting lessons learned from earlier deployments, a growing expansionist mindset, and a desire for economic, geopolitical, and military gains. Ukraine served as one of the first proving grounds for PMCs, beginning in 2014. The Russians then refined the model as these private mercenaries worked with local forces in countries such as Syria and Libya. Over time, Moscow expanded the use of PMCs to sub-Saharan Africa, Latin America, and other regions—including countries such as Sudan, the Central African Republic, Mozambique, Madagascar, and Venezuela. PMCs now fill various roles to undermine U.S. influence and support Russia’s expanding geopolitical, military, and economic interests.

With operations suspected or proven in as many as 30 countries across 4 continents and an increasingly refined and adaptable operational model, PMCs are likely to play a significant role in Russian strategic competition for the foreseeable future.

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Russian Special Forces soldiers from the army's intelligence unit take part in a military drill at a training ground near the village of Mol'kino, Krasnodar region, on July 10, 2015. Photo by SERGEI VENYAVSKY/AFP via Getty Images.

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Russian Objectives

PMCs play key roles executing Moscow’s policy objectives and advancing Russian national security interests across the globe. Even though PMCs are technically illegal under Article 13.5 of the Russian Constitution, some of President Vladimir Putin’s closest allies—such as Yevgeny Prigozhin—head Russian PMCs. A core component of Russia’s "hybrid warfare" strategy, PMCs provide the Kremlin a quasi-deniable means through which to pursue Russian objectives, complementing or substituting for more traditional,


  • Foreign Policy
PMCs provide the Kremlin with a tool to expand Russian influence across the globe. Through the use of PMCs, Moscow can support state and non-state partners, extract resources, influence foreign leaders, and engage in other activities that further Russian foreign policy goals.

  • Military
With military skills and capabilities, PMCs enable Moscow to project limited power, strengthen partners, establish new military footholds, and alter the balance of power in out-of-area conflicts toward preferred outcomes while maintaining a degree of plausible deniability for the Kremlin. PMC contractors are also more expendable and less risky than Russian soldiers, particularly if they are killed during combat or training missions.

  • Intelligence
Often recruited from Russian military and security forces, PMC operatives build intelligence networks in key theaters to collect insights for Kremlin decisionmakers and conduct intelligence operations, including political influence, covert action, and other clandestine activities.

Economic
PMCs and associated energy, mining, security, and logistics firms provide Moscow a means to expand trade and economic influence in the developing world and build new revenue streams, particularly from oil, gas, and mineral extraction, to reduce the impact of sanctions.

  • Political
Typically run by Kremlin-linked oligarchs, PMCs and the lucrative benefits that can accrue from deployments give the Kremlin a lever for balancing competing political and financial interests among oligarchs and exploiting PMCs’ quasi-legal status to ensure loyalty to Putin.

  • Informational
Moscow leverages even small-scale deployments to enhance global perceptions of Russian power and global influence while propagating pro-Russian narratives in foreign operating environments through PMC-linked media and disinformation outlets.

  • Ideological
PMCs serve as a tool to expand Russian soft power, including themes of "Russian patriotism" and Slavic identity among ideologically minded citizens in the former Soviet states and Balkans.

PMCs conduct training before deploying abroad, including at bases inside Russia and likely with the support of Russian military and intelligence agencies. Russia’s largest and most capable PMC, Wagner Group, conducts training at two camps attached to the location of 10th Special Mission Brigade of GRU Spetsnaz in Mol’kino, Krasnodar region, Russia.

Training

PMCs conduct training before deploying abroad, including at bases inside Russia and likely with the support of Russian military and intelligence agencies. Russia’s largest and most capable PMC, Wagner Group, conducts training at two camps attached to the location of 10th Special Mission Brigade of GRU Spetsnaz in Mol’kino, Krasnodar region, Russia

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Tasks
PMC units conduct a variety of military, security, and information warfare missions in deployments abroad, sometimes augmenting regular Russian forces. PMCs may be specialized for key tasks or serve multiple battlefield roles.

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Paramilitary: PMC commanders, such as Wagner Group’s Dmitrii Utkin, led Russian efforts to train, organize, and equip separatist militias in Donbas.

Combat: PMCs played a direct combat role in Donetsk and Luhansk, employing armor, artillery, rockets, air defense, and ground assault capabilities against Ukrainian military positions.

Intelligence: Special mission PMC units conducted technical and human intelligence collection, diversion, sabotage, and other covert and clandestine missions, including assassinations.

Propaganda and Disinformation: PMC-run media entities, such as the Prigozhin-owned Kharkiv News Agency, have waged aggressive disinformation campaigns to foment discontent and instability, promote pro-Russian and separatist narratives, and indoctrinate young Ukrainians.



PMCs first began operating in Ukraine during Russia's annexation of Crimea in March 2014 before taking on a central role in Moscow's ongoing covert war in Eastern Ukraine's Donbas region. Operating independently or augmenting regular Russian forces, PMC personnel in Ukraine including from Wagner Group reached between 2,500-5,000 during peak of fighting in 2015.

PMCs provided Moscow an ideal tool through which to pursue its geopolitical, military, and ideological objectives in Ukraine: destabilizing then consolidating control over Crimea and Donbas, undermining and pressuring Kyiv and its Western backers for diplomatic concessions, and doing it all while denying any official Russian involvement. However, while PMCs enabled Moscow and its Donbas proxies to seize and secure control over new "independent" republics in Donetsk and Luhansk, their battlefield achievements largely stalled since 2015, rendering the frontlines of Eastern Ukraine another Russian-backed frozen conflict. Moreover, Russian attempts to maintain "plausible deniability" for their actions fooled few Western governments, resulting in sanctions on Kremlin and PMC officials and organizations.

Nonetheless, Russia’s intervention in Ukraine was one of the first battlefield applications of its new "hybrid warfare" doctrine, and Moscow integrated PMCs into its military operations. Russia applied several lessons, such as exploiting the military-like capabilities of PMCs and their official "deniability," to its next major foreign operation: Syria.

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Paramilitary:
PMCs trained and advised Syrian army units and a number of Syrian and foreign militias fighting for Assad, such as the Syrian Tiger Forces and Palestinian Liwa al-Quds.

Combat: PMCs such as Wagner Group engaged in combat operations, evolving from indirect roles like reconnaissance to direct tasks such as ground assaults and special operations missions.

Intelligence: PMC specialists collected battlefield intelligence and served as forward air controllers, embedding with pro-regime troops to facilitate Russian air support.

Site Security: Personnel from multiple PMCs deployed to secure key military facilities such as Hmeimim Airfield and key energy infrastructure facilities in central and eastern Syria.


Building off its experience in Ukraine, Russia again turned to PMCs in Syria to help achieve important goals—including stabilizing the Assad regime and countering efforts by the United States and its partners. In addition, PMCs played a crucial role capturing oil fields, refineries, gas plants, and other energy infrastructure from rebels. Russian PMCs played an increasingly direct role in pro-regime combat operations over the course of the Syrian civil war and were often synchronized with Russian economic priorities, including securing key energy infrastructure. PMC personnel in Syria reached up to 1,000-3,000 personnel, including contingents from Wagner Group, Vegacy, E.N.O.T., Vostok Battalion, and other PMCs.

Syria was an important testing ground for the application of a hybrid-PMC deployment model, which is now being exported to other battlegrounds. PMCs acted as a ground force with skill sets similar to Russian Spetsnaz through which Moscow could limit regular Russian military casualties and provide deniability for high-risk Russian actions. PMCs synchronized military advances with economic priorities: capitalizing on ground advances in oil- and gas-rich areas, securing key pipelines, oil fields, refineries, and gas plants to stage future ground advances and draw profits. The Wagner Group’s advance on the Conoco Plant in Dayr az Zawr in February 2018 demonstrates how Moscow used PMCs to take risks in a deniable manner. In this case, Wagner attempted to seize the U.S.- and partner-controlled Conoco gas plant both to secure an economically valuable site and test U.S. resolve.

T-4 airbase in central Syria served as a key airbase for Russia in January 2017 as part of its strategy and planning to retake eastern Syria. Battlefield needs in 2017 precipitated a steady increase in specialized ground forces, including Russian PMCs, which led the ground component of this stage of the war. By 2019, Russia had expanded its presence at T-4 to become an all-purpose, air, ground, and intelligence base for its missions in Syria. The following imagery of T-4 identifies possible PMC positions at the airbase in 2017 and 2019.

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Full airbase shot of T-4, January 23, 2017.




An infantry battalion position observed at T-4 was likely Russian since the Syrian Arab Army no longer displayed this type of formation six years into the war.


A likely Russian logistics facility at T-4.

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A tank company and support element position at T-4. Russia expanded its presence at the airbase since battlefield needs required increased ground forces.

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Russian ground attack aircraft, rotary-wing aircraft, and unmanned aerial vehicles in May 2019 indicate Russia’s expanded presence at T-4.



This multi-mission role of PMCs—military, political, economic—and integration into host-nation proxy forces would next be employed in Libya.
 

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Paramilitary: PMC personnel trained LNA forces on ground warfare tactics and weapons systems, including tanks, artillery, attack aircraft, and UAVs.

Combat: Hundreds of forward-deployed PMC fighters took on direct combat roles in the Tripoli offensive, including snipers, anti-tank guided missiles, precision artillery, and surface-to-air missiles.

Intelligence: PMC operatives directed ISR support to LNA operations while cultivating and bolstering pro-Russian Libyan officials, particularly former Gaddafists.

Site Security: PMC personnel from RSB Group and Wagner have deployed at key oil, gas, infrastructure, and port facilities, including Tobruk, Derna, Benghazi, and Sirte, to provide security.

Propaganda and Disinformation: Supplementing RT and Sputnik Arabic, PMC-run media companies have acquired regional media outlets and conducted social media influence operations to propagate pro-Haftar and Qaddafi propaganda and anti-GNA, Turkey, and U.S. disinformation.


With lessons learned from supporting the Assad regime in Syria, Russia deployed PMCs to Libya's civil war to bolster General Khalifa Haftar, his Libyan National Army (LNA), and the eastern-based government in Tobruk. Since 2017, PMCs such as Wagner Group have been at the vanguard of Russian efforts, advising and enabling Haftar's LNA offensive into western Syria and assault on the UN-backed Government of National Accord (GNA) in Tripoli in 2019. Moscow deployed up to 800-1,200 PMC personnel, primarily from Wagner Group, to multiple training sites, forward bases, and key energy and infrastructure facilities as of early 2020, conducting a variety of missions vital to Haftar's offensive and to Russian interests.

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One of Russia’s primary deployment sites has been Al Jufra Air Base in central Libya, which has served as the launching pad for Wagner Group forces and Russian air support to the Tripoli campaign. A close examination of Russia’s deployment at Al Jufra Airbase reveals an expansion of Russian air and ground forces. In particular, satellite imagery shows a growth in the presence of the Russian PMC Wagner Group, a core component of Russia’s intervention in Libya.



Full airbase shot, June 6, 2020.

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The arrival of a large contingent of Russian artillery and PMC Wagner Group forces, May 28, 2020.



A Russian Su-24 attack aircraft taxiing on an Al Jufra runway, demonstrating continued Russian military activity, June 8, 2020.

PMCs have been Moscow's spearhead for advancing its foreign policy, military, and economic interests in Libya. With the Libyan civil war, Russia saw a power vacuum and chance to exploit the instability to expand Russian influence, using PMCs to bolster Haftar, tip the conflict in their favor, and reap the rewards. In exchange, Moscow sought economic and military concessions, deploying PMCs to key oil and gas facilities and Mediterranean ports as those areas fell to the LNA. Russia also used Libya to strengthen ties to traditionally U.S. partners, namely UAE and Egypt. Since 2017, Russian PMCs have deployed to Egypt’s Sidi Barrani airfield to direct joint Russian-Egyptian military support to Haftar. Newly acquired CSIS imagery shows the deployment of Russian equipment at Sidi Barrani in March 2017.




A recently arrived Il-76 transport aircraft in March 2017 at Sidi Barrani. Russian special operations forces and private military contractors deployed to Sidi Barrani as part of a bid to support Libyan military commander Khalifa Haftar.

Vehicles on the aircraft apron at Sidi Barrani in March 2017.

Russia's deployment of PMCs to Libya has strengthened its geostrategic position and diplomatic influence in the country, ensuring Moscow's role in any resolution of the conflict and an end-state amenable to Russian interests. However, there were also limits to Moscow’s use of PMCs. Despite assistance from PMCs, the LNA was unable to seize Tripoli and even triggered an expanding intervention from Turkey to bolster the GNA. Wagner Group alone has lost hundreds of fighters and key weapons systems in Tripoli's heavy ground fighting and from Turkish drone strikes. Nonetheless, through its PMC-led intervention, Moscow has gained a new strategic foothold and geostrategic position on the Mediterranean, as well as a bridgehead into the rest of the African continent.
 

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Though Russian PMCs first appeared in the Democratic Republic of the Congo as early as 2014, Russia significantly expanded the geographic scope and missions of PMCs in Sub-Saharan Africa following its interventions in Ukraine, Syria, and Libya. Russia has primarily used PMCs to target resource-rich countries with weak governance, such as Sudan, the Central African Republic, Mozambique, and Madagascar. Though PMC tasks have varied from case to case to meet local needs, in each of these countries Russia exchanged military and security support for economic gains and political influence.

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Wagner PMC Base in Berengo Progress
Following their arrival in 2018, PMC troops established a training camp in the ruins of former-emperor Jean-Bedel Bokassa’s palace at Berengo, southwest of Bangui. Troops repaired existing facilities and constructed new housing, storage structures, and training areas—including firing ranges and revetments. The imagery below shows the year-by-year development of the main base on the palace grounds and the two adjacent training areas, beginning with the conditions in 2017 before PMCs arrived.

Base in 2017

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Base in 2021

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Russia’s global use of PMCs has also extended to Latin America, though they are not as widespread as in Africa. PMCs have most notably played a role in Venezuela, though their presence has also been rumored in countries such as Nicaragua.

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Outlook & Implications

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August 4, 2018: Victor Tokmakov, first secretary of the Russian Embassy, presents diplomas to graduating recruits in Berengo. Russian military consultants have set up training for the Central African Armed Forces and the Internal Security Forces after delivering weapons to the country. Photo by FLORENT VERGNES/AFP via Getty Images



These examples demonstrate Russia’s expanding global use of the PMC model to advance its geopolitical and economic goals and undermine U.S. interests. PMCs provide the Kremlin a deniable means to project power and influence into its "near-abroad," as recent PMC activity in Belarus has demonstrated. They offer a glimpse of how Russia plans to compete with the United States in the future, particularly in weak, strategically located, and resource-rich states.

PMCs are an important instrument in a broad Russian toolkit that includes covert action, cyber operations, and other irregular activity across the globe. Yet PMC activities have not always been successful. In Libya, for example, Russia and its PMCs suffered a serious setback following the battlefield losses of Khalifa Haftar. Despite such problems, U.S. efforts to counter Russian PMCs have been weak and ad hoc. A more effective response should include several steps.

01 Make it public.The first is publicly highlighting what Russian PMCs are doing, where they are operating, and how they are connected to the Russian government—including to President Putin and others in the Kremlin. This analysis provides important details of the scope and activities of PMCs.

02
Exploit PMC weaknesses.A second step is to highlight and exploit Russia’s challenges with PMCs. Many are ineffective, corrupt, and engaged in human rights abuses. In the end, Moscow’s use of PMCs may actually undermine Russian influence rather than improve it. While PMCs have enabled Russia to shape conflict trajectories, gain influence in key theaters, and win military and economic concessions, there are limits to what PMCs can achieve. They have been most effective when deployed for limited or specific objectives, such as bolstering Syrian forces, aiding Donbas separatists in Ukraine, or gaining favor in the Central African Republic and Sudan. By themselves, however, PMCs are rarely decisive in winning conflicts, particularly when faced with capable and committed opponents or operating in unfamiliar terrain.

 

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Wagners are brutal and ruthless thugs who kill without impunity.

Turkish drones roasting them in Libya was well deserved do wish they finished them off rather than allowing them to withdraw.
 

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US Secretary of State Michael Pompeo visited Greece on September 27-28


MOSCOW, October 1. /TASS/. Russia is concerned by clearly anti-Russian US plans to boost its military presence in the Eastern Mediterranean region, Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova told reporters on Thursday.
"We are concerned by Washington’s plans to boost its military forces in Eastern Mediterranean, because [those plans] clearly have anti-Russian nature, reflect the aggressive policy of the United States and, generally speaking, run counter to promoting peace and security in this region," she said.
US Secretary of State Michael Pompeo visited Greece on September 27-28 to sign an agreement on further cooperation in science and technology, aimed at boosting investment and encouraging the development of strategic dialogue between the two states. On Tuesday, the US top diplomat visited the US military base at Souda Bay in Crete, Greece.
On October 5, 2019, Greece and the United States agreed to amend the previous agreement on defense cooperation, signed in 1990. According to the document, the US military will reinforce the base at Souda Bay, use the Larissa air base, the army aviation base in Stefanovikio (Magnesia Prefecture) and the port of Alexandroupoli in northeastern Greece.

 

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The West is shell-shocked by Russia’s resurgence under President Vladimir Putin

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German Chancellor Angela Merkel greets Russian President Vladimir Putin upon his arrival to attend a peace summit on Libya at the Chancellery in Berlin on January 19, 2020. Photo: AFP / John MacDougall



The following is the sixth installment of an extended report on one of the most important geopolitical developments of the 21st century: the increasingly comprehensive alliance between China and Russia and its implications for Eurasian and regional powers across the planet. To follow the series, click here.


All the developments described in previous articles in this series have added to the tensions over the eastward expansion of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization toward Russia’s borders and the present-day geopolitical contestation unfolding between the US, the European Union and NATO on one side and Russia on the other over the post-Soviet republics along Russia’s western borders and the Black Sea and the Caucasus.


Russia has been seeking a modus vivendi between the EU and the Eurasian Economic Union and at one point advanced the concept of a united Europe from the Atlantic to the Pacific, but German Chancellor Angela Merkel is not interested.


Meanwhile, the incipient signs of German militarism have appeared. In a stunning remark in May 2017, while on the election campaign trail, Merkel said that Europe could no longer “completely depend” on the US and UK after the election of President Donald Trump and Brexit.

“The times in which we could completely depend on others are on the way out. I’ve experienced that.… We Europeans have to take our destiny into our own hands,” Merkel told a crowd at an election rally in Munich.


Partly, the remarks might have been “thanks to the beer, pretzels and Bavarian brass band enlivening the crowd,” as a British Broadcasting Corporation commentator wryly noted on that balmy day in Munich, but what was striking was that Merkel’s words were uncharacteristically passionate and unusually forthright. The message resonated all across Europe and Russia: “By all means keep friendly relations with Trump’s America and Brexit Britain – but we can’t rely on them.”


This led to some speculation that Germany under Merkel was drifting away from the US. In reality, though, it was more a matter of the testy relationship between Merkel and President Trump and not at all about her own imminent transformation as a German Gaullist, so to speak.


The speculation, in fact, has since died down as quickly as it had surfaced. The fact of the matter is that Merkel’s generation of German politicians are staunchly “Atlanticist” – as she herself is – who place primacy on “shared liberal values” in the overarching German-American relationship (bypassing Trump) and see it as at the very core of the trans-Atlantic alliance.


Thus they are committed to building a stronger European pillar of NATO. This is twice removed from French President Emmanuel Macron’s conception of an independent European force.


Unsurprisingly, they see Russia as antithetical to their value system, which is riveted on democratic principles, rule of law, human rights, freedom of speech and so on. They regard as a huge challenge Russia’s perceived aggressive, assertive policies and that Russia altered established international boundaries on the doorsteps of Europe no fewer than four times. Plainly put, they are shell-shocked by Russia’s resurgence under President Vladimir Putin.


Western analysts initially pooh-poohed when Putin in 2007, toward the end of his second term in office, appointed Anatoliy Serdyukov – the former head of the Federal Tax Service – as defense minister as part of an effort to combat corruption in the Russian military and carry out reforms. But as the August 2008 Russia-Georgia conflict revealed large-scale Russian military operational failures, the Kremlin became more determined to boost military capabilities.


Thus a comprehensive reform program began touching on all aspects of the Russian armed forces – from the total size of the armed forces to its officer corps and command system, a large-scale 10-year weapons modernization plan, military budgets, the development of new weapon systems both for strategic nuclear deterrence and conventional forces, and the Russian national security strategy and military doctrine itself.


The reform has gone further than any previous efforts in altering the force structure and operations of the Russian armed forces inherited from the Soviet Union. By 2015-16, Western analysts who were initially skeptical began sitting up and taking notice that Russia was in the midst of a major modernization of its armed forces, driven by Putin’s ambition to restore Russia’s hard power and supported by the revenues that flowed into the Kremlin’s coffers between 2004 and 2014, when the price of oil was high.

A Russia specialist at Brookings, Steven Pifer, wrote in February 2016, “The modernization programs encompass all parts of the Russian military, including strategic nuclear, non-strategic nuclear and conventional forces. The United States has to pay attention. Russia … retains the capacity to make significant trouble. Moreover, in recent years the Kremlin has shown a new readiness to use military force.”


To be sure, in a national address in March 2018, Putin announced that Russia’s military had tested a group of new strategic weapons aimed at defeating Western defense systems. Putin used videos shown on a large screen to present some of the weapons he discussed. He said the new weapons had made the missile defenses of NATO “useless.”


In a December 2019 speech, Putin disclosed that Russia had become the only country in the world to deploy hypersonic weapons. “Now we have a situation that is unique in modern history when they [the West] are trying to catch up to us,” he said. “Not a single country has hypersonic weapons, let alone hypersonic weapons of intercontinental range.”


Suffice to say, Germany’s “militarization” needs to be put in perspective. Defense Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer said recently in a conversation with the Atlantic Council that “Russia needs to understand that we are strong and we intend to follow through.” She said Germany was committed to meeting 10% of NATO requirements by 2030 and a higher defense budget and building up of capability was in Germany’s own interest.


However, neither Germany nor Japan is at liberty to plunge headlong into “neo-militarism.” Neither has an independent foreign policy. A lot of domestic opposition will have to be overcome first to take to a neo-militarist path.


In both countries, the national discourses are still dominated by postwar pacifism questioning the military and each of its operations. The two countries have voluntary armies; neither is capable of starting a war without US support or concurrence; both are in effect supplementary powers and not major forces on their own steam.


Germany doesn’t want to get out of NATO, while Japan simply cannot think of life except under the canopy of its military alliance with the US. In the final analysis, both are militarily castrated nations lacking the capacity or the political will, having been the losers in the last World War.


This article was produced in partnership by Indian Punchline and Globetrotter, a project of the Independent Media Institute, which provided it to Asia Times. It is the sixth article in a series. Part 7 will examine the geopolitical forces pushing Russia and China closer to each other.

 

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Bosnia, Azerbaijan, Georgia and Ukraine need to be members.
 

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