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The Role of Media in Russian-African Relations

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Since the collapse of the Soviet system, already a little more than three decades, Russia has been struggle to raise its influence in Africa. The culmination of such efforts, inconsistent though, was the first Russia-Africa Summit that brought together African leaders, corporate businesses, academics and other experts to the Black Sea city of Sochi on October 23-24. Since 2019 Summit, Russian and African leaders have agreed on measures toward building a consolidated relations that explicitly reflected in their joint declaration, only little have been achieved.

Last November, for instance, a special report was presented under the title ‘Situation Analytical Report on Africa’ and was prepared by 25 policy experts, headed by Sergei A. Karaganov, Dean and Academic Supervisor of the Faculty of World Economy and International Relations of the National Research University’s Higher School of Economics (HSE University). Karaganov is also the Honorary Chairman of the Presidium of the Council on Foreign and Defence Policy.

That policy report, however, praised the joint declaration adopted at the summit as it has raised the African agenda of Russia’s foreign policy to a new level. The historic declaration, so far, remains the main document determining the conceptual framework of Russian-African cooperation.

Some of the situation analysis participants, who contributed to the policy report, spoke very critically of Russia’s current policy towards Africa and even claimed that there was no consistent policy and/or consistency in the policy implementation at all. The intensification of political contacts is only with a focus on making them demonstrative. Russia’s foreign policy strategy regarding Africa needs to spell out and incorporate the development needs of African countries.

While the number of high-level meetings has increased, the share of substantive issues on the agenda remains small. There are little definitive results from such meetings. Apart from the absence of a public strategy for the continent, there is shortage of qualified personnel, the lack of coordination among various state and para-state institutions working with Africa.

The report lists insufficient and disorganized Russian-African lobbying, and combined with the lack of “information hygiene” at all levels of public speaking among the main flaws of Russia’s current Africa policy. Under the circumstance, Russia needs to compile its various ideas for cooperation with Africa into a single comprehensive and publicly available strategy to achieve more success with Africa.

Admittedly, there are various parameters of strengthening the relations with Africa. For the purpose of this article, we look at media cooperation with and in Africa. During the first Russia-Africa summit, there was a special panel discussion on media. The panelists and participants attempted to exhaustively, examine such questions as follows:

What issues are currently, encountered in the formation of the modern media landscape? What role does the media play in Russia-African relations? What are the prospects for collaboration in the information sphere? What needs to be done to develop a Russian media agenda in Africa? What is the role and place of Russia in the information space of Africa today?

Russian media resources, which are largely far from eminent in Africa, include Rossiya Sevogdnya (RIA Novosti, Voice of Russia and Russia Today), Itar-Tass News Agency and Interfax Information Service. Instead of prioritizing media cooperation with Africa, high-ranking Russian officials most often talk about information-war, the spread of anti-Russian propaganda by western and European media in Africa.

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The fact is that the African continent is rapidly becoming ever more important in today’s international order. Russian-African relations are adding an additional dimension to developments, especially with the boost provided by rapidly expanding links across a vast range of areas. The media can, and indeed must be a decisive factor in building effective ties.

But unfortunately, Africa is frequently portrayed in the media as suffering from numerous intergovernmental, religious, and ethnic conflicts; political and economic instability; and an array of demographic and social problems. Knowledge of today’s Russia and the steps taken by its political leaders to tackle global challenges is also given little space in the continent’s media landscape.

Four years ago, acknowledging undoubtedly that Africa has become a new world center for global development, Russian legislators at the State Duma (the lower chamber) have advocated for a greater media representation to facilitate collecting important information to support business and economic cooperation with Africa.

Besides that, experts from the think-tank Valdai Discussion Club, academic researchers from the Institute for African Studies and independent policy observers have repeatedly suggested that authorities use Russia’s media resources available to support its foreign policy, promote its positive image, disseminate useful information about its current achievements and emerging economic opportunities, especially for the African public.

Here are the main reasons to consider the media also as a priority:

Reason One: Viacheslav Volodin, the chairman of the State Duma, told an instant meeting held, with participation of African diplomats, to brainstorm for fresh views on the current Russia-African relations: “it is necessary to take certain steps together for the Russian media to work on the African continent.”

“You know that the Russian media provide broadcasting in various languages, they work in many countries, although it is certainly impossible to compare this presence with presence of the media of the United States, United Kingdom and Germany,” he said as the ambassadors responded with a big applause.

Sharing additional matured sentiments and decisiveness about the media, Volodin added: “We propose to move from intentions to concrete steps. Our people will better understand each other through parliamentary relations.”

For the past few years, Russia has made some efforts returning with investment and business to Africa, but unfortunately, not all these steps have received adequate publicity. The presence of Russian media on the African continent and that of African media in the Russian Federation have been raised several times in the past by many policy experts.

Reason Two: Vladimir Shubin, deputy director of the Institute for African Studies in Moscow said that Africa has great potential for bilateral relationships with Russia and, most importantly, Russia’s contribution is very noticeable in dealing with the problems of Africa.

Perhaps, one of the reasons why some African leaders have written off Russia is the lack of information about Russia or rather plenty of distorted information they have received from the Western media coverage of Russia. In fact, Russia needs genuine and objective information about modern Africa, and here both state and private mass media linger a lot, according to Professor Shubin.

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Reason Three: Olga Kulkova, a research fellow at the Center for Russian-African Relations at the Institute for African Studies, said that “Africa needs broader coverage in Russian media. Leading Russian media agencies should release more topical news items and analytical quality articles about the continent. Russia has to adequately collaborate with African partners and attract Russian business to Africa. More quality information about modern Russia should be broadcast in African states.”

“Indisputably, it takes a lot of money and efforts, but the result will pay off. Russia ought to take the media into account if it wants to improve the chances for success in Africa. All the leading countries have been doing that quite efficiently for a long time,” Kulkova noted.

Reason Four: While many experts argue that African media seem uninterested in developing working links to Russia, Vasily Pushkov, an independent expert on international media relations wrote in an emailed comment that “it works both ways and the two regions are very far from each other.” Russia and Africa are not as interconnected as they were during the Soviet era, he stressed.

Pushkov explained that “Russia might have an image problem among African political and business elites, partly due to the fact that Russia has low presence in Africa compared to the Soviet era. Most African media get their global news from the leading Western media outlets, which in turn have a nasty and longstanding habit of always portraying Russia as the world’s bogeyman.”

Reason Five: “Russian media write very little about Africa, what is going on there, what are the social and political dynamics in different parts of the continent. Media and NGOs should make big efforts to increase level of mutual knowledge, which can stimulate interest for each other and lead to increased economic interaction as well,” argues research professor Fyodor Lukyanov at the National Research University – Higher School of Economics, Faculty of World Economy and International Affairs, and editor-in-chief of the journal Russia in Global Affairs.

“To certain extent,” Lukyanov said, “the intensification of non-political contacts may contribute to increased interest. Soft power has never been on a strong side of Russian policy in post-Soviet era.”

Reason Six: The trend may change for the better. In a foreign policy speech, President Vladimir Putin urged all his Russian ambassadors and diplomats actively use new technologies to highlight Russian success stories, improve Russia’s image and defend its interests abroad, according to Russian daily newspaper Kommersant, quoting an official who attended the meeting.

“It’s not enough to just crow something once… We should explain our positions again and again, using various platforms and new media technologies, until they understand,” the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, quoted Putin as saying.

Via MD

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Asia-Pacific

Was it Indo-Pacific, or Asia-Pacific? A Look at the Immaturity of American Geopolitics

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Global geopolitics is inevitably linked to major world events. The results of this, however, can be disastrous for well-known geopolitical theories and major geo-strategies.

On March 29, Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong visited Washington, and had a meeting for about an hour with U.S. President Joe Biden, who had just returned from Europe. The two held a joint press conference after the meeting, focusing on the consensus between the two countries, including U.S. participation in the Asian region, Singapore-U.S. cooperation, and the adherence to the rules-based international order. From this joint press conference, many intriguing signs can be seen, and they are all important geopolitical messages.

Since President Biden took office, he has actively promoted the “Indo-Pacific strategy”. At the joint press conference, although Prime Minister Lee expressed his “welcome” to America’s proposed Indo-Pacific Economic Framework, when referring to the Asian region at the beginning of the meeting and in the subsequent press conference, Prime Minister Lee repeatedly and politely used the phrase “Asia-Pacific”, instead of “Indo-Pacific” that Americans often talk about.

This is not a trivial question of word choice. Behind these vocabularies is the issue of the actual status and role of India as an Asian power, which has become increasingly obvious since the outbreak of the war in Ukraine. Not long before, on March 31, Daleep Singh, the U.S. deputy national security advisor for International Economics in the Biden administration, publicly warned India not to help Russia to weaken the dollar or face “consequences”.

According to relevant news, the White House said on March 29 that Daleep Singh would visit the Indian capital New Delhi to meet with Indian government officials, and the two sides will discuss on the Russia-Ukraine conflict. Speaking to reporters after his meeting with Indian officials on March 31, Singh asked India to narrow its economic and military ties with Russia, refrain from increasing imports of Russian energy and from any moves that could weaken the dollar.

“We are very keen for all countries, especially our allies and partners, not to create mechanisms that prop up the ruble, and those that attempt to undermine the dollar-based financial system”, said Singh. Earlier, Reuters had reported that India and Russia were preparing to launch a rupee-ruble payment scheme to counter U.S. financial sanctions.

Possibly because the meeting with Indian officials was unsatisfactory, Singh sternly warned after the meeting that any country that helped Russia to evade Western sanctions would face “consequences”. It is worth noting that he is not the only U.S. official who is dissatisfied with India. Many U.S. officials have previously accused India being “unstable” in its response to the issue of confronting Russia, and that India is an “exception” among U.S. allies.

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In reality, the very notion that India being an ally of the U.S. is merely a unilateral imagination on the American side in its attempt to constraint China. The level of naivety of this imagination at time has even reached an incongruous level. In a recent think tank conference that I have seen, a professor at Georgetown University in the U.S. who seemed to be dissatisfied with India’s performance in regard to the Russia-Ukraine war, accused India of not taking the side of the U.S. This was responded by a vehement rebuttal of an Indian think tank scholar on the spot. The Indian scholar said that India knows how to take care of its own interests, and there is no need for the U.S. to make irresponsible remarks. He continued that India’s economic growth rate is three to four times that of the U.S., and the poor in the United States are ubiquitous. The U.S., stressed the scholar, has no right to accuse India. He said that the war in Ukraine was provoked and instigated by the U.S., and that President Biden’s son has business interest there, while the U.S. also engages in “biological warfare” in Ukraine.

This is not merely an accidental reaction of a nationalistic Indian scholars. Indians are certainly proud of their country’s achievements, and this in fact has broader social basis. Naresh Gujral, an Indian member of Parliament, accused the West and the U.S. in regard to the war in Ukraine, saying that on the one hand, the West continues to buy Russian oil and gas, and on the other hand, it hypocritically tries to India to circumvent Russia’s energy supply. Sanjaya Baru, who served as the adviser to former Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, also emphasized that “India doesn’t have to fall in line with either the East or the West”. In other words, the U.S. should not expect India to do what it demands its allies to do.

India has indeed, outwitted the U.S. in the geopolitical field.

Because of the war in Ukraine, India has revealed the U.S.’ blind spot in geopolitical vision. In the past, the U.S. misunderstood that India was an “ally”, even offered Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi special treatments, and upgraded the “Asia-Pacific strategy” which was based on the U.S.’ traditional allies to the “Indo-Pacific Strategy” for comprehensive cooperation with India. Prime Minister Modi then gladly enjoyed all these “special treatments” and the clear support provided by the U.S. in the India-China conflict. Yet, India has no plans to do anything further, and nothing has changed. Therefore, apart from the issue of the India-China conflict, India has never intended to be an ally of the United States. The thought that India being its ally is just a unilateral and naive wishful thinking of the U.S. strategy.

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In the Russia-Ukraine war, even China, as a “competitor” of the U.S., “acted in concert” with it even more than India, the so-called American “ally”. At least, China has yet to have military relations with Russia, even if it is rumored that Russia has made a clear request for military assistance to China. India, on the other hand, continues to maintain and deepen military cooperation with Russia amid the war in Ukraine, not only in terms of conventional weapons, but also negotiating with Russia to import a large number of Sukhoi Su-30 fighter aircrafts, which practically continues to support Russia’s military industry.

Perhaps, the U.S. would find out that India has made a fool of it.

The degree to which India’s reaction in the Russia-Ukraine war has been open, obvious, and straightforward. India is tantamount to publicly accusing the U.S. geopolitical scholars and geo-strategists as self-righteous and ignorant. It appears that American geoscientists and strategic planners will be busy for a long time to come, just to revise the large number of policy documents to redefine India’s geopolitical status, and to produce huge amount of books and speeches to explain themselves.

Historical realists have repeatedly criticized Professor John Mearsheimer’s realist view, in the sense that the world cannot be defined with the needs of the geopolitical game, along the line of “the enemy of my enemy my a friend”. With their arrogant tradition of scientific imperialism, Americans have repeatedly made mistakes in this regard. First, there was Afghanistan; and now there is India. This is actually a simple issue. Looking back, today’s so-called “realism” is actually a dumbing-down of the complex global geopolitics.

Indeed, any mistake in geopolitics will result in troublesome outcome.

Via MD

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