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  • Position : Executive Board member, Honorary Member of the Trialogue Club International
  • Affiliation : Institute of World Economy and International Relations, Russian Academy of Sciences
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Eurasian Security in the Global Context

Amb. Vyacheslav Trubnikov

Summary of remarks by Amb. Vyacheslav Trubnikov

PIR Center International School of Global Security, 2019


We should not become preoccupied with military security to the exclusion of all else. The future security architecture should be viewed from all the numerous and often conflicting vantage points of the current situation. Most importantly. We should avoid a fixation on military security issues. Such strategic threats as degradation of the environment and climate change are ignored at our own peril. Nothing would be worse than an environmental catastrophe. As we address current security challenges, we should also think about the world the future generations will inherit from us. Environmental security should be a key part of any security architecture.

The Eurasian security architecture is shaped by the global context. At this time, that context includes instability, a lack of transparency, a degradation of old alliances, and the lack of established norms of the nascent polycentric world order.

Europe is increasingly thinking about creating its own, European, collective security system instead of the Euro-Atlantic system. It is hard to say whether the Europeans will prove to have sufficient political will and financial resources to establish a parallel security system rather than relying solely on NATO.

The Eurasian security architecture is now taking shape in three distinct forms: the Belt and Road Initiative (promoted by China); security in the Indo-Pacific region (a US idea that aims to counterbalance the growing Chinese influence in Eurasia), and Russia’s EAEU project.

India will not buckle. India is one of the leading Eurasian powers. Even though Russia has a close strategic partnership with India, we should be aware that Washington is working hard to drag India into what is essentially an anti-Chinese bloc, whose other members are the United States itself, Australia, and Japan. Much will depend on whether India, as a sovereign nation, will have the strength to resist the US pressure. I am confident that India will not buckle, despite the mounting pressure. It may be hit by sanctions, but India has a way of finding smart ways around those sanctions.

Indian elections. Our own best interests would be served by a candidate who serves the Indian voters’ interests. The Indian voters have never made a wrong choice, so far. For us, nothing will change. Modi has not lurched towards closer ties with Washington – it’s Washington who’s lurched towards closer ties with India. The United  States has realized that India is the only power capable of keeping China in check. They have placed their bets on India, and I believe they’ve made the right choice. India, being a very pragmatic nation, will benefit from such cooperation by gaining access to advanced technologies. Some of the agreements it has signed appear very unfavorable to India at first sight – but New Delhi is only signing them for the sake of access to advanced technologies. And I believe they are doing the right thing.

In South Asia, two nuclear powers remain unable to resolve a 70-year-old problem, the problem of Kashmir. India and Pakistan hold diametrically opposed positions. India, in view of its economic and military might, should, by all logic, initiate a solution – but India is sticking to its guns, insisting that it’s Pakistan who should make the first step. But Pakistan is unable to do so because the green shoots of democracy are still very fragile in that country, and all the politicians who advocated a rapprochement with India have ended up dead or in jail.

The Indian nuclear program. The international community – and the nuclear weapon states in particular – should not behave like an ostrich, sticking their heads in the sand and pretending that nothing is going on, or that India is no different from all the other states trying to acquire nuclear weapons.

The Indian nuclear program is entirely and completely indigenous. India has not stolen any nuclear technologies or violated any international laws. There are, therefore, no grounds at all to criticize India for encouraging or exploiting any violations of the international nuclear weapons nonproliferation regime.

As long as nuclear weapons are held only by responsible regimes – be they military or democratic – a military conflict involving the use of nuclear weapons remains impossible. The Indians had a perfect pretext to use their nuclear weapons in retaliation for the 2008 terror attacks in Mumbai – in fact, there were some who tried to push India towards such retaliation. Nevertheless, despite these urgings by the radicals, and by various nationalist and chauvinist elements, India desisted. It chose instead to mobilize the international public opinion against the outrage committed by Pakistan. In other words, responsible regimes will never use nuclear weapons.

The concept of the Indo-Pacific Region has become established as a US-led project of security architecture in Eurasia. As for the North-South transport corridor, Russia has done very little to promote it. But politically, that corridor must be defended, even in the Belt and Road framework. For Russia, that concept cannot be viewed as a replacement of the North-South corridor.

Strange Bedfellows. New alliances are springing up that are described by the Americans as “strange bedfellows”. One example of such an alliance, in which there are more differences than genuine cooperation between the member states, is the coalition of Russia, Iran, Turkey, and Syria. Nevertheless, cooperation with Iran and Turkey remains in Russia’s best interests for the immediate future, though not necessarily in the longer term.

Iran is a country with a very complex domestic situation and fraught relations with the United States. And I’m not at all sure that the people of Iran have full confidence in their leadership. In essence, there are two Irans: the Iran of the ayatollahs, and the secular Iran. These two societies are living side by side, but it’s the mullahs and the ayatollahs who are in control. That situation won’t last long because the Iranian electorate is getting younger, and the young Iranians are not too fond of the mullahs. The Iranian nuclear and missile program is also a very complex entity. It has never been fully transparent, and more openness is required from Iran in that regard.

Afghanistan has been unable for many years to achieve domestic stability. It won’t be possible to achieve stability as long as US troops remain in the country. But a complete US troop pullout is impossible because the Americans are unable to take all their weapons with them – and they’ve brought a lot of weapons into Afghanistan over the years. They won’t be able to remove them without Russian assistance. In this context, a deterioration in Russian-US relations makes things even more difficult in the short and even medium term. Having reached an agreement with the government in Kabul and with the Taliban, the Americans will remain in the country for another five years at the very least. The only thing they will be good for during that period is providing their own security and the security of the weapons they have supplied to the Afghan government. If the Americans were to withdraw from Afghanistan, and the Taliban were to launch a sudden counteroffensive, the Afghan army won’t stand a chance. Half of it would flee, and take their weapons with them, and the rest would join the Taliban. Russia has decided to engage the Taliban in dialogue for a good reason. It wants to facilitate a political settlement between the Taliban and the government in Kabul before resolving the situation with the US troop pullout.

Inter-Afghan talks. There are different formats of inter-Afghan dialogue because different foreign powers are trying to play the leading role in them. Let us recall the period when the Northern Alliance still existed, and when it received assistance from the United States, India, and Russia. Those three nations have a stake in the situation in Afghanistan, as do the Central Asian republics and China. The Afghan problem is very complex, and I see no harm in the existence of several different formats; perhaps at least one of them will prove successful. I hope of course that the Russian-led format proves a success.

Controlling the disarmament process. I am very skeptical about disarmament processes. Please don’t judge me too harshly, but I don’t understand the rationale for these calls for disarmament. No self-respecting nation will ever allow others to control its own weapons or defense programs. I interpret arms control as control over the disarmament process. It concerns only those who are actually engaged in disarmament. Look, we don’t control China in any way, and China resists any attempts at control.

NPT review process. We are unable to propose any algorithm for the NPT Review Conference that would guarantee a successful outcome. The risk of failure in this case is an integral part of the process. All else aside, it takes a lot of political will for any recommendations to be implemented. One cannot demand political will from one’s partners. It takes a certain fortuitous turn of events, a positive climate for a Review Conference to make progress. When a conference is held in such a fraught political climate, it is difficult, if not outright impossible, to expect a successful outcome. That is why we should be very realistic about the ongoing process, keep calm, and carry on. These efforts are a major factor that keeps irresponsible regimes in check. They are an opportunity to draw the international spotlight to failures and violations of international agreements.

Democratic principles in intelligence agencies. One of the key qualities of a successful leader is the ability to make use of the resources and talents of others, a willingness to make collective decisions while also taking personal responsibility for those decisions. Even in such militarized outfits as intelligence agencies, democratic governance principles yield the best results. A leader should be able to make use of the people who staunchly disagree. That is the only way to avoid fiascos and grave errors, many of which stem from too much tolerance for flattery and the subordinate’s eagerness to please the boss.

The future of intelligence. Technology vs humans. The future of intelligence is becoming increasingly complex because of the growing range of various tasks the intelligence agencies are facing. There are two conflicting trends in intelligence. One is that technology is the answer to all our problems. The other is that without human intelligence, a network of agents on the ground, it is impossible to get an accurate picture. I subscribe to the latter point of view. We can get all kinds of intelligence imagery from space. I saw with my own eyes the photos taken by US spy satellites 30 or 40 years ago: you can see the tracks left by the boots of our patrol guard at the Murmansk naval base on those photos. The quality of the imagery is absolutely stunning! But it’s impossible to tell from those photos the identity of the guard wearing those boots, where exactly he was walking, or to what end. In order to answer those questions, one needs to understand what’s going on in the heads of the leadership of our potential adversary. One needs to understand the motives that drive them. From times immemorial, spies have always been instrumental to upholding national sovereignty. And that is why human intelligence will never become obsolete. It will continue to evolve in line with the new requirements formulated by the political leadership.


PIR Center, April 2019