Now that the Kremlin has confirmed that Vladimir Putin will be attending the 2015 UN Summit in New York, there is growing concern that the Russian President will use the occasion to criticize the West.
Given the growing tensions in U.S.-Russia bilateral relations, some Russian experts expect that Russian President Vladimir Putin will deliver a tough accusatory speech from the UN podium. Photo: AP
News that Russian President Vladimir Putin will be addressing the 70th session of the UN General Assembly in New York has been making headlines in Russia. This very important foreign policy step – the first time that Putin has addressed the UN in nearly a decade — was preceded by a number of diplomatic demarches and statements, testifying to the quite intense emotional state of relations between Russia and the United States.
For example, the Chair of Russia’s Federation Council, Valentina Matvienko, recently accused the United States of less than diplomatic behavior. In her opinion, it was the U.S. that prevented her full participation at the UN-hosted World Conference of Speakers of Parliament in New York.
The insult to Speaker Matvienko continues to resonate
In early June, the Chair of the Federation Council was invited to participate in the 4th World Conference of Speakers of Parliament, which took place from August 31 to September 2 at the UN headquarters in New York, as well as in the 10th Meeting of Women Speakers. A meeting was also planned with UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.
However, Matvienko cancelled her participation at these events. She was not satisfied with the terms and conditions offered for her stay in the United States. She was issued a visa for only three days, and was not allowed to travel more than 25 kilometers from the center of Manhattan.
“I cannot accept such insulting conditions,” said Matvienko. She said that the United States was “hindering the free exchange of ideas,” and the American sanctions against herself and other parliamentarians she called a demonstration of a “savage” and “Dark Ages” mentality.
The reason that Ms. Matvienko was denied a full-fledged visa is because she is on the black list of Russian politicians that are under U.S. sanctions.
Putin’s first visit to the UN in 10 years
This was the background against which Moscow announced Putin’s upcoming participation in the 70th anniversary session of the UN General Assembly. Putin will head a large delegation, which will include Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov, and many other Russian officials.
This will be the first time in the last 10 years that Putin will be speaking from the rostrum of the United Nations. Before this, he spoke at three UN General Assembly Sessions – in 2000, 2003 and 2005, but after his latest re-election as president in 2012, he has not set foot on American soil. What message will the Russian President be bringing to New York?
Russian media has given special attention to recent statements made by Foreign Minister Lavrov about the possibility of a personal meeting between Putin and U.S. President Barack Obama in New York, on the sidelines of the General Assembly session.
Lavrov suggested that, “Our American colleagues are sending us signals that they want to continue to maintain contacts… if there is such a proposal on their part, I think our President will give it constructive consideration.”
The White House quickly responded to Lavrov’s comments. According to the press service of the U.S. National Security Council at the White House, currently there are no plans for a personal meeting between the presidents of Russia and the United States in the foreseeable future, and no preparations are underway for such a meeting.
After that, there was an immediate halt to speculations about a possible meeting between the two leaders.
“The path, onto which the world is being pushed, including by Washington (I have in mind the path of sanctions, antagonism, absence of dialogue), this is not a transit to a new state of affairs, it is a path to nowhere, a dead-end,” said Maria Zakharova, official representative of Russia's Foreign Ministry.
Putin’s Munich speech, take 2
Given the growing tensions in bilateral relations, some Russian experts expect that Putin will deliver a tough accusatory speech from the UN podium. “Most likely it will be his Munich Speech – Take 2,” says Alexey Mukhin, general director of the Center for Political Information.
“Putin will speak about the illegal nature of sanctions against Russia, and about the imbalance that is being created as a result of their implementation. In addition, some ‘good’ words will be said about the U.S., which is not able to cope with the role of world leader, but in every possible way is trying to wear this mantle.”
“The president will draw attention to the explosive growth of various regional alliances (BRICS, SCO, EurAsEC) and underline the natural character of their development, due to the loss of credibility of the UN and the WTO,” the expert added.
However, not all experts are convinced that this would be the appropriate message to deliver to the international community.
“I will be disappointed if Putin, in his speech, will focus exclusively on international terrorism, the Middle East, and migration issues,” says Valentin Katasonov, Professor of International Finance at the Moscow State Institute for International Relations (MGIMO-University).
“It will be very bad, if all this will be accompanied by tough rhetoric in the style of “the end of the era of Western domination, the creation of a multipolar system, etc.” (Recently, Foreign Minister Lavrov, speaking at a youth forum in Russia, brought up the topic of “The end of the era of Western domination.”)
So what will the heads of state hear spoken in New York by Putin — perhaps a sequel to his famous Munich Speech? Common sense says that a repeat of the Munich Speech in New York would be a counterproductive step that, using the words of Zakharova, could only lead the world to a dead-end road.
Russia is experiencing a rather severe economic crisis, caused primarily by low oil prices. Moreover, at the same time, the country finds itself in serious political isolation, which, for Putin personally, is extremely unfavorable, currently being ostracized by leaders of the G7.
He simply could not ignore this forum in New York, which will be attended by Chinese President Xi Jinping, the president of Iran Hassan Rouhani, and Pope Francis. The days are over when Mr. Putin could express his contempt for world organizations, as happened after his re-election in 2012, when he sent Dmitry Medvedev in his place to the G8 Summit.
There is much evidence that Russia is no longer on top of the mountain on the global stage, but rather is often being forced to come down. This is seen in the demonstrative refusal of the Americans to prepare a backstage meeting in New York between Obama and Putin, thus refuting Lavrov’s statement about Moscow receiving certain signals from the U.S.
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Added to this is the reluctance of China to buy Russian gas at the proposed prices, which, at least in the medium term, does not inspire hope for an effective implementation of Russia’s promised “pivot to the East.” There are also growing problems in relations with a country that once was one of Russia’s closest allies – Belarus.
“Lukashenko has turned away from Russia,” writes the Internet publication Gazeta.ru. “For the first time in the 21-year rule of Lukashenko, the presidential elections in this country are taking place under conditions of a deep economic crisis in Belarus. The old slogan – “For a strong and prosperous Belarus” has been replaced by a new one – “For the future of an independent Belarus.” Lukashenko is clearly hinting that he is talking about independence primarily from Russia.
Is it thus not advisable, in such conditions, when Moscow has practically no allies in the world (except for some Latin American countries, particularly Venezuela, which is hoping for Russia’s assistance in trying to raise the price of oil), to come out with another mentoring message to the world. Russia can no longer blame all of the world’s troubles only on America, or view the causes of major global problems originating exclusively from U.S. global dominance, America’s unwillingness to build dialogue or the West’s arbitrary use of sanctions.
Instead, President Putin must choose the other path, and offer the world a fresh look at addressing the most pressing problems facing humanity.
The opinion of the author may not necessarily reflect the position of Russia Direct or its staff.