RUSSIA’S PEACE-MAKING AND DIPLOMATIC INTERVENTIONS

Russia

By Alex Pollock

Russia has become involved in wars in Syria, Libya, Afghanistan, and the CAR in different capacities. Russia has many of the instruments needed to make headway in complex peace negotiations, including good intelligence and analytical capabilities and effective diplomatic service. But so far, Russia has had mixed success. Many Russian mechanisms of conflict management were familiar to scholars of post-Soviet wars in the early 1990s in such countries as Moldova, Georgia, and Tajikistan. However, they took on a new significance as Russia began projecting power outside the former Soviet space into the Middle East and other regions. (Marshall Center)

Overview of Russia’s role as ‘peacemaker’

The George C Marshall European Center for Security Studies has analysed several of Russia’s involvements with international conflicts over the last several years. David Lewis, an analyst at the centre, states that Russia’s work in global peace efforts can often be described as “coercive mediation,” a tactic that combines both diplomatic negotiations and military action. He goes on to explain that Russia’s method of peace-making can be characterised as a “hierarchical, top-down process in which peace is imposed by the stronger party, not freely negotiated by several actors.” Coercive mediation, according to Lewis, “requires the use of force—either directly or by arming proxies—but force is deployed in tandem with diplomatic initiatives and peace negotiations.”

Examples of this combination of negotiations and military action include Russia’s involvement in Georgia (2008), Ukraine (2014) and Syria (2015). In each of these conflicts, Russia engaged in various forms of diplomatic negotiation, while also providing some level of military intervention. Lewis claims that while coercive mediation can bring about progress in international conflict, it also has the potential to only provide short-term peace, and that it might bring an end to brutality and violence, but often ignores the social grievances of one or both sides.

Russia has increased its role as a global peacemaker, stepping in to help negotiate peace deals in conflicts such as the clash between Armenia and Azerbaijan, the war in Syria, and the on-going negotiations between the Afghan government and the Taliban. Despite Lewis’ slight criticism of Russia’s methods of achieving peace, Russia has been among the more active of the large world powers when it comes to global peace efforts in recent years.

Russia has faced challenges in its peace processes – notably in Syria – from countries like the United States, who have implemented tactics aimed at not only trying to achieve peace in line with the “American view” of how the world should be shaped, but also trying to undermine Russian efforts at the same time. US Special Representative James Jeffrey stated in an interview with Newsweek of the US’s involvement in Syria: “This isn’t Afghanistan, this isn’t Vietnam,” he explained. “This isn’t a quagmire. My job is to make it a quagmire for the Russians.”

Western countries and Western media often portray Russia as the enemy, potentially causing unnecessary harm to Russia’s implementation of peace processes in conflicts – peace processes that those same Western countries are often less involved in. Most, if not all, international conflicts are complex and historied situations that require a delicate balance of power and negotiation to resolve; unfortunately, in conflicts such as Armenia/Azerbaijan, Syria, and Afghanistan, the political wars of larger world powers are often played out within these regional conflicts.

Russia-brokered peace in Armenia and Azerbaijan

Russia was one of three powers to sign an agreement to end military involvement in the Nagorno-Karabakh region on 9 November 2020. The agreement was mediated by Vladimir Putin and ended over six weeks of violent clashes between Armenia and Azerbaijan, over disputed territory. The renewed tensions between the two countries over Nagorno Karabakh – internationally recognised as Azeri territory, but mostly inhabited by ethnic Armenians – came to a head in September 2020 as both sides were accused of brutal military action. Russia was no stranger to the conflict, helping broker a truce that ended a war between the two countries in 1994. That ceasefire agreement ended the war but did not detail a plan for future peace.

Mr Putin said of the November 2020 agreement: “We presume that the agreements reached will set up necessary conditions for the lasting and full-format settling of the Nagorno-Karabakh crisis on the basis of justice and to the benefit of Armenian and Azerbaijan peoples.”

While many other global powers welcomed the end to the conflict, Russia was the most involved, brokering the deal and deploying 1,960 personnel to the region to ensure continued peace. Part of the job of the Russian peacekeepers will be to guard the Lachin Corridor, the link between the Karabakh capital of Stepanakert and Armenia, as well as to make sure that people who were displaced during the conflict will be able to return home.

The agreement is expected to be a successful long-term solution to the dispute, despite protests from the Armenian side. Nikol Pashinyan, Armenia Prime Minister, described the deal as “incredibly painful both for me and for our people.”

Russian involvement in Syria

Russia, along with Turkey and Iran, in 2017 launched the Astana Process, re-energising the Syrian peace effort. While Russia has stood on the opposite side of Turkey when it comes to who they support in the Syrian conflict, their combined efforts were focussed on ending the military intervention in exchange for a more political approach.

The process brought the countries together to preside over a series of meetings that would include members of the Syrian government and the opposition forces. At first, progress was slow, and only related to de-escalation zones, however, it has since been a useful tool in the military de-escalation throughout Syria.

Critics of the Astana Process say the peace efforts of the process will not work, as Russia, Turkey, and Iran have differing agendas in the conflict. Russia and Iran have supported Syria’s President Bashar al Assad with both military and political support, while Turkey has supported the opposition forces. However, despite these differences, Russia, along with the other two nations continued to call for a political settlement in line with United Nations’ resolutions.

Since the creation of the Astana Process, Russia has more recently recommitted to the Syrian peace process by entering into the Doha process with Turkey and Qatar. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov reiterated that this new process was not created to replace the Astana Process, but was formed to incorporate Qatar in the dialogue. “Our goal is to discuss how we can contribute to efforts towards a lasting political solution in Syria,” said Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu.

Mr Lavrov reaffirmed Russia’s commitment to “preserve the sovereignty, independence, unity, and territorial integrity of Syria.” The nine-point statement released by Russia, Turkey, and Qatar outlines a call for prioritising COVID vaccines for Syrians, as well as the enhancement of efforts in delivering humanitarian aid. “Our common goals — of Russia, Turkey [and] Qatar — are reflected in the joint statement that we have just approved, which confirms our determination to fight terrorism in all its forms and manifestations, to counter separatist plans that undermine the territorial integrity of the Syrian Arab Republic, which threaten the security of neighbouring countries,” Lavrov said.

Russia hosts Afghanistan peace talks

The ‘Moscow Format’ is an alternative peace process developed by Russia in 2016 to pursue peace in Afghanistan. This approach is similar to that used in Syria. Russia hopes to work toward a solution by setting up talks with outside powers, as well as encouraging internal dialogue between the Afghan government and the Taliban. Russia is stepping up its efforts in Afghanistan since the talks between the government and the Taliban seem to be at a standstill.

Russia’s diplomatic representatives have been visiting regional leaders and senior Taliban members. Russia’s special envoy for Afghanistan Zamir Kabulov met with Pakistani leaders, including the army chief and the foreign minister, Shah Mehmood Quereshi. Quereshi released a statement following the meeting saying that Moscow and Pakistan “share a desire for an inclusive political settlement to the conflict in Afghanistan.” According to the Associated Press, a delegation of the Taliban has also visited Moscow.

Moscow has long been involved in the peace efforts in Afghanistan, holding two meetings between the Taliban and Afghan officials in 2019. This most recent involvement comes as the United States and NATO try to discern whether to continue troop deployment in Afghanistan. Russia, however, is suggesting the inclusion of the Taliban in an interim government should be the country’s next step.

Russian foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova told reporters: “Russia is paying special attention to the national reconciliation in Afghanistan and ending the protracted military conflict in the country. The formation of an interim inclusive administration would be a logical solution to the problem of integrating the Taliban into the peaceful political life of Afghanistan.” She added, the decision should be made “by the Afghans themselves and should be resolved during negotiations on national reconciliation.”

FROM A CHRISTIAN PERSPECTIVE

In the book of Habakkuk, the prophet Habakkuk cried out to the Lord for help. He pleaded with God to do something about the injustice he saw in the land. In Habakkuk 1:5 the Lord replies by explaining to Habakkuk that He would raise up the nation of Babylon to bring about justice. The nation of Babylon was far from God, being described as a “feared and dreaded” people, not the people one might expect the Lord to use to execute His justice. While the situation Habakkuk was facing is different from what is happening today, parallels can be drawn between the situation described in Habakkuk and the current global climate. In the midst of many of these war zones, one finds Russia, often striving for peace.

Though Russia is often villainised in Western media, they are not a godless nation (despite previous Soviet efforts to stamp out religion of all kinds). Russia’s evangelical Christian population is estimated at approximately three million, while the Russian Orthodox Church numbers are estimated at around 15 million. Despite Russia not being an obviously Christian nation, the Lord may be working through Russia, with its global influence, to bring about peace in regions of conflict. According to INcontext contacts in Russia, the Russian church – both Orthodox and Protestant – stands behind Mr Putin and his strategies. “They understand that he (like almost all presidents in the world) is not godly and does sometimes do things that are not at all acceptable for Christians – they do not think he is an angel and do not think that he can do nothing wrong, but they also do respect him very highly.”

The example portrayed in Habakkuk demonstrates that the Lord can use anything, or anyone, to bring about His purposes. Russia could be a tool that the Lord is using to help bring about peace and stability in conflicted regions. However, it is important that Christians, both in Russia and around the world, continue to pray for and pursue true peace that can only be achieved by offering people the opportunity to hear the Gospel. Russia and other nations brokering peace are tools, not saviours. May the Church continue to stand with its brothers and sisters who are facing conflict, supporting them in prayer and in action, while keeping its focus on the true Prince of Peace.

Please pray with us:

  • For true peace to be achieved in areas of conflict – especially where war has dragged on for years
  • For the Lord to use whatever ‘vessel’ He chooses to bring about peaceful resolutions to conflict
  • For the Church to be a leader in peace efforts

 

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Image: REUTERS/Sputnik/Alexei Druzhinin/Kremlin

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