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Too much to bear? U.S, Russia and the Geopolitics of COVID19

Continuing with the "Corona Dialogues" series,  the Center for International Relations and Sustainable Development, organized a discussion on April 29th, 2020, featuring Richard Fontaine, the Chief Executive Officer of the Center for a New American Security (CNAS) and Andrey Kortunov, Director General of the Russian International Affairs Council (RIAC). The discussion about America, Russia and geopolitics during the pandemic was moderated by CIRSD President Vuk Jeremic. 

During the discussion, Fontaine said the money America spends on defense, about $ 720 billion a year, is directed at national security threats, and not primarily at health related threats or other transnational threats like global warming.

Commenting on the issue of budget planning, Kortunov said that many countries hold on to past practices when it comes to national security, adding that budget priorities often reflect outdated views.

"When they don't know what to do, they do what they know - spend money the way they used to. I hope that the pandemic will somehow force Heads of state to reconsider their priorities, but so far we do not see it," Kortunov said.

In Fontaine's view, the unpreparedness of the U.S. Government, both at the state and federal level, led to the current situation. He emphasized that they were not ready for a pandemic that would move at this speed and affect so many people. He added that the technical problems the Center for Disease Control encountered in the beginning, followed by different reactions of local authorities and inconsistent state and federal regulations only made the problem worse. 

He reminded the audience that the U.S. elections will be held in November, and expressed his belief that it is way too early for predictions who will benefit the most in the fall.

"I can paint you a picture where Donald Trump says: 'I vanquished the virus, I vanquished impeachment, I vanquished everything they threw at me. Our economy is getting back on track - you should give me another four years.' However, I can also paint you a picture where the coronavirus is still going, the Government is still struggling to respond, and all this benefits Biden rather than Trump," Fontaine said.

Jeremic pointed out that we are witnessing a sort of a "geopolitical recession", where not only has the UNbecome dysfunctional, but also the G20 and G7 have hardly come to any conclusions in the midst of this crisis. He added that international actors are withdrawing from the international scene, and that multilateralism could also be the victim of the pandemic. 

Steering the discussion towards the issue of economic impact on Russian domestic affairs, CIRSD President stated that while the Russian President Vladimir Putin is admired as master tactician, even by those who do not support his politics, he seems to have made some hasty moves recently when he first announced the change of the Constitution, only to later postpone the referendum. 

Kortunov replied that the collapse of oil prices currently represents a more serious problem for Russia than the pandemic itself.

"Previously, there was a so called 'Crimea consensus' in Russia, which implied that the government could not provide high economic growth, but it could compensate for a relatively poor economic performance, by demonstrating very energetic foreign policy. This was a compensation for economic stagnation. I am not sure this will be the case now. Now, the Russians are more concerned about daily life, so one can argue that the pandemic has been the last nail in the coffin of the 'Crimea consensus', Kortunov said.

Kortunov added that he is unsure whether this 'Crimea consensus' could be replaced by a 'Corona consensus '. "It could happen if Putin shows a lot of efficiency, and if he can sell his approach to the pandemic to the public. So far, his popularity is going down." 

"The crisis, on the other hand, somewhat reaffirms the narrative of the Russian authorities, which can now tell citizens 'we told you that states are the only important players in the international system, that state sovereignty is of  paramount importance, that multilateralism is not for real, that the principles of solidarity are hypocritical, and look at what is happening now, '' Kortunov stated.

Asked by the viewers whether Jeremic's interlocutors trusted Turkey and its leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Fontaine quoted former U.S. President Ronald Reagan's words "Trust, but verify".

"There are allies we trust implicitly, such as Australia and the United Kingdom, then there are allies we trust most of the time, and then there are allies like Turkey. You have to keep both eyes on Turkey. There is  no trust without confirmation," Fontaine said.

Kortunov replied that he trusts and likes the Turkish people, but when it comes to Turkish leadership, he would not buy a used car from Turkish President Erdogan.


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