Russia shows off security relations

Manal Lotfy in London , Wednesday 16 Aug 2023

In organising major security and defence conferences in Moscow this week, Russia is showing off its diplomatic and military capabilities in order to hide its economic and other problems, writes Manal Lotfy

Russia shows off security relations
Ukrainian rescuers pushing out a fire in a supermarket after a night strike in Odesa, amid Russian invasion in Ukraine. (photo: AFP)


Amidst worsening economic problems at home and military difficulties in the war with Ukraine, Russia is seeking to strengthen its security and defence relations with countries outside the Western sphere as part of what Moscow calls attempts to restore balance to the international system.

Although Russian President Vladimir Putin will not participate in the BRICS Summit meeting scheduled for later this month in South Africa, the Russian authorities are trying to compensate for his absence by bringing together dozens of defence ministers from around the world at the Moscow Conference on International Security this week and the Army-2023 Forum in an attempt to disprove Western rhetoric about Russia’s isolation.

In a keynote speech on Tuesday at the Moscow Conference, Putin said that his country was open to cooperating with “all those who seek to protect their national interests and their independent path of development,” Russian state news agency Tass reported.

The Moscow Conference on International Security is a major event in the global security landscape and is seen as an opportunity for Russia to promote its views on international security and engage with other countries on such issues.

The annual conference, which is hosting representatives from about 100 countries and eight international organisations, is organised by the Russian Ministry of Defence. The main theme is cooperation on the new realities arising in the process of creating a multipolar world order. The conference is also discussing common threats to global and regional stability, as well as various aspects of security in Asia, Africa, the Middle East, Latin America and Europe.

Key topics on the agenda this year are the ongoing Russian-Ukrainian war, the rise of China and its implications for global security, the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, the challenges of cybersecurity, and the future of arms control.

In a speech at the conference, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov emphasised that “the majority of world countries are searching for ways to develop outside of Western mechanisms, including by strengthening multilateral associations of a new type,” the Tass news agency reported.

The Western nations have not been invited to the event, although UN and other representatives have.

The conference is also discussing “various aspects of security under the conditions of the establishment of a multipolar world order and ways to restore constructive international cooperation in the context of aggressive claims by Euro-Atlantic elites for world domination,” the Russian Foreign Ministry said.

Although China has tried to remain neutral in the Russian-Ukrainian war, emphasising that it would not support Russia militarily, and has also tried to mediate between Moscow and Kyiv to reach a truce and engage in peace talks, the Chinese authorities have maintained robust economic, diplomatic, and trade ties with Moscow.

Signs coming from China indicate that Beijing does not link the continuation of the war with strengthening strategic relations with Moscow. However, Chinese Defence Minister Li Shangfu’s six-day visit this week to Russia and Belarus is seen in Western capitals as a clear show of support.

During his visit Li is scheduled to address the Moscow Conference and meet with defence leaders from Russia and other nations, the Chinese Defence Ministry said on its social media account, citing spokesperson Wu Qian.

Other keynote speakers at the conference include Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu and representatives from NATO and the European Union.

Li’s attendance at the conference further underscores the drive by China and Russia to align their foreign policies. His trip to Moscow will be followed by a visit to Belarus, a close Russian ally. While there, he will hold meetings with Belarussian state and military leaders and visit military facilities.

Asked about Li’s visit to Moscow, Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Wang Wenbin said that Chinese and Russian leaders “have maintained strategic communication in different ways on various issues.”

“The two sides have had orderly high-level exchanges of views on extensive topics including bilateral cooperation and issues of joint concern,” Wang told reporters at a daily briefing.

“The two countries will continue to advance the China-Russia comprehensive strategic cooperative partnership in the new era,” he said, a reference to a joint statement issued by the Russian president and his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping in Beijing last year just before Russia’s February invasion of Ukraine in which they declared “no-limits friendship.”

President Xi visited Moscow last March, sending a message to Western leaders that their efforts to isolate Moscow were not an option as far as China is concerned.

Meanwhile, Li’s upcoming visit to Belarus comes as Belarussian Defence Minister Viktor Khrenin suggested that the West was actively preparing for a direct military clash with Russia.

“Intensive military preparations are underway in the West. Enormous sums of money are being invested in this. It is necessary to understand that, in the capitalist world, nobody will tie their assets up in [long-term investments in costly] weaponry and in beefing up the ranks of the army for nothing,” he told the Moscow Conference.

“So, one can draw an unambiguous conclusion: the possibility of a direct military clash with NATO in the future is becoming more and more evident.”

He said that the only thing preventing the West from initiating a large-scale war was the threat of a nuclear response. “It is no accident that the Republic of Belarus is considering returning tactical nuclear weapons to its soil as a potent element of strategic containment,” he added.

Alongside the Moscow Conference, Russia is also hosting dozens of defence ministers and defence companies at the Army-2023 Forum, an international military-technical exhibition held in Russia every two years organised by the Russian Defence Ministry and one of the largest arms shows in the world.

The forum provides a platform for Russian companies to showcase their latest technology and attract foreign partners, and it plays an important role in promoting Russia’s world views. This year’s forum will include 250 events dedicated to diversifying the defence industry and developing AI, Putin said.

Held from 14 to 20 August, the forum typically covers a wide range of military technologies, including weapons, vehicles, aircraft, and drones. The Russian authorities expect this year’s forum to attract over 700,000 visitors, including government officials, military personnel, and representatives of the defence industry.

Highlights of the forum include the unveiling of a new Russian hypersonic missile system called the Zircon, the demonstration of a new combat robot called the Warrior, the presentation of the new T-14 Armata battle tank, and the demonstration of the new Su-75 Checkmate fighter jet, a fifth-generation fighter that is still under development.

However, overshadowing Moscow’s efforts not to appear isolated internationally is the military stalemate in Ukraine and the deterioration for prospects of a cease-fire and negotiations for a peaceful solution to the war.

These are negatively affecting the Russian economy and the value of the national currency the ruble.

In a move designed to fight inflation and strengthen the ruble after the currency fell to its lowest value since early in the war with Ukraine, Russia’s Central Bank raised its key interest rate by 3.5 percentage points to 12 per cent on Tuesday.

The decision was announced after an emergency meeting of the bank’s board of directors was called a day earlier.

The fall in the ruble comes as Moscow increases military spending and Western sanctions hit its energy exports. The Russian currency passed 101 rubles to the dollar on Monday, losing more than a third of its value since the beginning of the year and hitting the lowest level in almost 17 months. It had recovered slightly after the Central Bank announced the meeting.

The bank said that demand had exceeded the country’s ability to expand economic output, increasing inflation and affecting “the ruble’s exchange-rate dynamics through elevated demand for imports.”

“Consequently, the pass-through of the ruble’s depreciation to prices is gaining momentum and inflation expectations are on the rise,” it said in a statement.

Economic Adviser to Putin Maksim Oreshkin blamed the weak ruble on “loose monetary policy” in a newspaper article, adding that the Central Bank had “all the tools necessary” to stabilise the situation and that he expected normalisation shortly.

Since the start of the war with Ukraine, many foreign companies have left Russia, and there has been a decline in tourism. The government has taken measures to try to mitigate the impact of the war on the economy and has raised interest rates and imposed capital controls.

However, these measures have not been enough to prevent the economy from contracting. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has forecast that the Russian economy will shrink by 8.5 per cent in 2023, the worst contraction since the 1990s.

The weakening Russian economy is negatively affecting Moscow’s efforts to attract more allies. For Russia to achieve its agenda by expanding its list of allies outside the Western world, it needs strong economic foundations, but these have been largely lost as a result of the war with Ukraine.

* A version of this article appears in print in the 17 August, 2023 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

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