Russia Direct Blog

What lessons should politics learn from religion?

February 20, 2016

Amidst the increasing risks of a military confrontation between Russia and the West, politicians would better to take into account the experience of religious leaders like Pope Francis and Patriarch Kirill.    


By Russia Direct


With a great deal of buzz about a global war, involving Russia and other great powers, the recent Munich Security conference is very symbolic and ill-omened. It seems to create a sort of the catch 22 situation: the more politicians talk about it, the more concerns they have, the less understanding they achieve, the less predictable the world becomes.


During last week, before and after the 2016 Munich Security Conference, Russia Direct, an analytical media outlet, covered the problem of the global security very extensively. It gave voice to Russian and foreign pundits, including New York University’s professor Mark Galeotti, the Russian International Affairs Council’s Andrey Kortunov, San Francisco State University’s Andrei Tsygankov and others.    


Most experts agree that the odds of a full-fledged war are gradually increasing, no matter how rigorously politicians try to prevent it. Given the lack of effective communication channels between Russian and Western political elites and top brass, the possibility of the war, even though hypothetical, is increasing amidst the tension between Turkey and Russia.


The world might underestimate the Turkey factor in Russia-West relations and its implications for the world stability, when it was probably the case during the onset of the Ukraine crisis, before the Euromaidan protests turned into the civil war in the country.    


I wouldn’t dare to say that the possibility of the war is high – we haven’t so far reached this point. However, at the same time, it seems obvious that today’s threat is bigger than it was, say, three years ago,” Kortunov warns in an interview to Russia Direct.


Without the solid policy toward Turkey, Washington seems to straddle between increasing cooperation with Russia over Syria and supporting Turkey as a NATO member in its hypothetical military confrontation with Moscow.


This leads to another catch-22 problem: The less certain Washington is toward Turkey, the more unpredictable and explosive the situation becomes. The prospects of a confrontation between Russia and Turkey and, thus, a wider conflict between Russia and NATO is not high, but seem to be not impossible.


 “Turkey is still NATO’s ally,” Galeotti told Russia Direct. “Russia is, frankly, an antagonist. The United States finds itself with no good options over Syria. It is certainly not willing to more than halfheartedly back Turkey and, therefore, it wants to keep a sort of understanding with Russia. … Now Turkey can rely on Article 5 to bring in NATO if Russia is actually the aggressor. All I can say is that I hope that Moscow is aware about this distinction.”


Likewise, another columnist for Russia Direct, Ivan Tsvetkov, a professor of St. Petersburg State University, seems not very optimistic about the prospect of achieving stability and security in the times of the current turbulence: Only a miracle can stop the escalation of violence into which the world has fallen in recent years, he argues.


“If the events will keep developing in accordance with the murky forecasts, which were plentiful at the Munich Security Conference, the next meeting of the world elites in 2017 might use the slogan, "How we brought Europe to war one more time while talking about strengthening our security,” Tsvetkov wrote in his column.


In contrast, Tsygankov warns against overestimating the possibility of the global war, involving Russia and the West. “Alarmist views and arguments are misplaced because they underestimate the dangers of the Cold War and overestimate those of today’s world,” he wrote in a column for Russia Direct.


One of the reasons of why the Russia-NATO conflict is unlikely is the common sense and the rationality of the world’s leaders, with both the U.S. and Russia having important interests to prevent regional conflicts from escalating or becoming trans-regional.


“Although its relative military capabilities are not where they were ten years ago, the U.S. military and diplomatic resources are sufficient to restrain key regional players in any part of the world. Given the power rivalry across several regions, proxy wars are possible and indeed are happening, but they are unlikely to escalate,” Tsygankov argues.


Amidst all the alarmist talks about the global war, involving great powers, and the Munich Security Conference, the good news came from Cuba, where Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill and Catholic Pope Francis met to sigh a joint declaration and discuss the urgent issues, including Ukraine and violence in the Middle East and North Africa. 


As Andrei Zolotov, the author of Russia Direct, wrote in his column, “the declaration emphasizes the first millennium of Christianity as the common foundation of the two Churches, but does not hide the differences that have accumulated since the Great Schism of 1054.”


In fact, the meeting between the Pope and the Patriarch should be a good example for the word’s leaders, concerned with the increasing instability in the Eastern Europe and the Middle East. The very fact that they met after the 1054 Great Schism, indicates that compromise and common sense is a better option than intransigence and the hawk tenacity.


More about Russia Direct:

Russia Direct is an English-language expert-oriented publication on Russian foreign policy, domestic politics and economy founded in 2013. It produces analytical articles, expert interviews, book reviews and monthly reports. Four reports are distributed as print supplements to Foreign Policy magazine each quarter. The goal of Russia Direct is to create a platform for dialogue between Russian and international experts and decision makers and to provide a more nuanced understanding of Russia's position on global matters and developments inside the country.


For more analysis at Russia Direct, visit its website.

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