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Why does Russia cooperate with ‘rogue states’

Fyodor Lukyanov


Russia does not deny international cooperation, including that of judicial agencies, but has some misgivings about possible interference in domestic affairs.


“Rogue state” is a term applied by some international theorists to states considered threatening to global peace. This description might typically include certain criteria, such as being ruled by authoritarian regimes that severely restrict human rights, sponsoring terrorism, or seeking to proliferate weapons of mass destruction.

In the late 1980s, U.S. officials considered North Korea, Pakistan, Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan and Libya “rogue states.” Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iraq were removed from the list in 2001 and 2003, respectively. Libya achieved success through diplomacy and is not included on the list today.

The concept of a “rogue state” was replaced by the Bush administration’s use of the term “axis of evil” (when referring to Iraq, Iran and North Korea). U.S. President George W. Bush first spoke of this “axis of evil” during his January 2002 State of the Union Address.

Both phrases have become obsolete because of their arrogant connotations. Nevertheless, Washington and part of the international community are still treating some countries with suspicion.

Over the years, the United States has blacklisted such countries as Belarus, Venezuela, Zimbabwe, Iraq, Iran, Libya, Myanmar, North Korea, Serbia, Syria and Sudan. The U.S. administration believes that any other countries that cooperate with them are not quite civilised and are unfriendly towards Washington.

It appears that Russia is purposefully streamlining ties with countries, international organisations and movements (for example, Hamas) implementing anti-American policies.

Instead of generalising, it might be more constructive to try and understand the Kremlin’s international law, political and economic motivations in specific cases.

Moscow’s notion of international law includes its opinion regarding the nature of a system for international relations. Russia advocates the primacy of national sovereignty, believing that supranational bodies should be established in accordance with collective decisions and should adhere to legal procedures.

Moscow believes that the views of the great powers are no more valid than those of anyone else. This explains Russia’s stand on Zimbabwe, Sudan and Myanmar and various international tribunals and investigations, including those of the bloody May 2005 riots in Andijan, in Uzbekistan, the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri in February 2005 and the International Criminal Court’s recent decision to seek an arrest warrant for Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir.

Russia does not deny international cooperation, including that of judicial agencies, but has some misgivings about possible interference in domestic affairs. The experience of the last 20 years shows that efforts to restore justice or to protect human rights standards are often undermined by political motives, including the overthrow of undesirable regimes.

Political motives imply concepts for more effectively tackling international issues.

As far as the Iranian and North Korean nuclear programmes, the Israeli-Hamas and Israeli-Syrian peace talks and the situation in Zimbabwe are concerned, Moscow believes that the isolation of “problem states” merely deadlocks any crisis. This is particularly true of situations when ideological approaches prevail.

Russia believes that efforts to involve the parties concerned in negotiations, to facilitate mutual trust and gradual advances are far more constructive than open coercion or intimidation. Still, pressure tactics should not be discarded but merely serve as an element of a wide-ranging and diversified strategy.

The international community’s approach to North Korea validates this strategy. The Iranian nuclear problem is also being solved, albeit with difficulty. Even the United States and Israel have realised that a policy aimed at isolating Hamas is wrong or, at best, pointless. Active and diverse diplomacy has turned Libya from a “pariah” state into an acceptable member of the international community.

The commercial factor is also very important. For instance, Venezuela is an ideal partner for the Russian defence industry. Venezuela, which has sizeable financial resources and whose ambitious leader Hugo Chavez wants to buy state-of-the-art weapons, is not covered by any international sanctions or restrictions. Although the Kremlin disagrees with the views of President Chavez who wants to build socialism in his country and to set up an alliance against U.S. regional domination, it sees no reason to ignore Venezuelan requests.

Although Russian weapons could be used in conflicts, Moscow would not want to support any of the belligerents. There have been allegations that some weapons bought by Caracas have fallen into the hands of the insurgent Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), or that Hezbollah, a Shiite Islamic political and paramilitary organisation based in Lebanon, gets some of its weapons from Syria. Before signing any contracts, Moscow should insist on fair play and on screening all prospective clients.

Politics always have some emotional aspects. Moscow reacts appropriately when the United States actively invades traditional Russian spheres of influence or supports countries allegedly implementing anti-Russian policies. Until now, Russia has managed to behave soberly and to choose a more tactful approach to foreign policy issues.

— RIA Novosti

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