Experts Dispute Russian Foreign Ministry’s ‘Optimistic’ Report on Achievements

Sergei Lavrov
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. Photo: AFP

The Russian Foreign Ministry has released its annual end-of-the-year report on the main policy outcomes of 2017.

“Russia maintained an independent foreign policy, promoted a unifying agenda, and proposed constructive solutions to international problems and conflicts,” the report said.

However, despite Russian authorities optimistic view of their achievements, experts remain skeptical about the report and its claims.

The document covers a variety of topics including Ukraine, the Koreas, nuclear proliferation, and the Middle East. The Globe Post discussed the report with Professor Howard Stoffer, a specialist on Russia who served in the Department of State for 25 years, and Professor Igor Lukes, an expert on central Europe and Russia. 

Assessing the Ukrainian Crisis

“Russia pursued a constructive policy in efforts to settle the intra-Ukrainian conflict by way of implementing the Minsk Agreements,” the Foreign Ministry’s report said. “In December, Russia facilitated a prisoner exchange between Ukraine, the Donetsk People’s Republic and the Lugansk People’s Republic.”

The phrase “intra-Ukrainian conflict” used to describe the situation in Ukraine drew sharp criticism from both experts. It implies that a problem exists within the country with no influence from outside sources.

Mr. Lukes wrote that the Ministry “…is silent about Putin’s annexation of Crimea and advances the lie that the war in eastern Ukraine is allegedly an ‘intra-Ukrainian conflict.’ Really? Then what is the Russian Army doing there with troops and heave [sic] equipment?”

Mr. Stoffer also said that the word “intra” is wrong. “It’s a Ukrainian-Russia conflict,” he noted, also refuting the claim that Russia had no involvement in Ukraine’s internal affairs. “They [Russia] have not had a constructive policy, they have basically provoked and even facilitated the conflict in Donetsk and Lugansk areas of Ukraine.”

The report refers to Donetsk and Lugansk as “People’s Republic(s),” but Mr. Stoffer argued that these are “sham republics that they have also in Georgia, Ossetia, and in other places where they create these fake entities that no one else in the world recognizes.”

He added that even though Russia they has helped in facilitating the prisoner exchange between Kiev and the separatists, it has been “exceedingly unhelpful and have continued to allow violence to flare in the region and it can only flare because the Russians are providing arms and military and financial support to the Russians who are fighting against the Ukrainians in those regions.”

Has Russia Helped the Korean Nuclear Deadlock?

Russia’s proximity to North Korea as a direct neighbor gives the nation the ability to play a critical role in potential peace processes. Moscow has said that Russia worked towards a peaceful settlement in the region, but experts have argue that this is merely wishful thinking.

“Advancing a joint initiative for the peaceful settlement of the nuclear problem of the Korean Peninsula was one example of the strengthened mutual understanding between Moscow and Beijing on international security issues,” the report said.

Mr. Lukes argued that the usage of the phrase “nuclear problem of the Korean Peninsula” was “clearly incorrect.”

“First, the problem is the nuclear threat posed by North Korea, not its neighbor in the south. Second, North Koreas nukes are not a ‘problem OF the Korean Peninsula.’ They are a global problem,” he said. 

In regards to any efforts made by the Putin government to actually bring about a non-nuclear Korean peninsula, Mr. Stoffer noted that Moscow has done nothing to come up with new proposals.

“They continue to exacerbate the situation by allowing large numbers of North Korean workers to work in Russia, particularly in the Vladivostok area. And now the [United Nations] Security Counsel has passed a resolution with sanctions that say that these workers must return home inside the next year or two,” he said. 

According to the expert, Russia has not used its leverage well either

“They have done nothing to impose pressure on Kim Jong-un together with China, and together with the United States to stop this nuclear testing program and especially to stop his missile testing program,” Mr. Stoffer said. “They continue to allow these things to go forward and they extol the virtues of having a nuclear-free peninsula but do very little to try to reign in Kim Jong-un and they don’t send representatives at high levels to talk to him, the Chinese recently have done that.”

Russia’s Role in Syria

The Russian Foreign Ministry argued in the report that Moscow’s active involvement in the affairs of Syria “contributed to the elimination of the main forces of the Islamic State terrorist group in that country and the formation of prerequisites for a political settlement of this conflict under U.N. auspices.”

“In conjunction with Iran and Turkey, Russia acted as the guarantor of the ceasefire agreements between the government forces and the armed opposition, and worked out the parameters for holding the Syrian National Dialogue Congress with the participation of a wide range of representatives of the Syrian people,” the report said.

Russia has been heavily involved in Syria’s civil war since 2015. Experts argued, however, that Moscow has not lived up to the claims it made.

Mr. Lukes said that the report presents Moscow as a power-broker in Syria and the Middle East.

“It’s true the Russians have upheld the present regime in Damascus, and prolonged the conflict, but I don’t see anyone paying much attention to Russia in the Middle East,” he said.  

Mr. Stoffer suggested that “…there has been no effort [on behalf of Russia] whatsoever within Syria to restrain the Syrian government from using chemical weapons…there are still millions of refugees that are on the outskirts of Syria and into Europe and some in the U.S., Russia has taken none, zero.”

He also noted that Russia’s stances in Syria are counterproductive to their goal of trying to gain favor with various countries in the Middle East and the West.

“For a country that wants to get itself back into the Middle East and wants to be respected, they’re supporting a regime in a country [Syria] that has violated international law over these last six years which has lead to the genocide of half a million people and they continue to be unhelpful in many respects…”