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Analysis - Setting the discussion over Leb. FP towards Russia

Russian President Vladimir Putin hosts his annual end-of-year press conference today, a chance for Russian and international media to put one of the world’s most powerful men on the spot.

Like most world leaders in a pandemic year, Putin has had a mixed 2020. On the positive side of the ledger, he succeeded in making changes to Russia’s constitution—allowing him to run for two more terms as president if he so wishes. Russia also continued its opportunistic foreign policy (I call Sniper policy) in Libya, Turkey, Syria and Nagorno-Karabakh, proving kingmaker in the 2 latter conflicts.

Other developments cast a shadow, however. Falling oil prices depressed the country’s economy and could spell more trouble if global demand remains low moreover the “Turkstream” project (See other uploaded documents on FP webpage) will take a while to materialize. Months of protests in Belarus against President Aleksandr Lukashenko showed the weakness of a key ally. Closer to home, a challenge to Moscow’s leadership in the southeastern city of Khabarovsk over the summer revealed that all is not well on the country’s periphery.

The poisoning of opposition figure Alexei Navalny, allegedly carried out by Russian security forces, won’t make it any easier for the West to accept Russia back into the fold. International sanctions will likely persist.

Putin will also have to face up to a new U.S. president in Joe Biden, whose focus on rebuilding international ties may come at the expense of the Russian leader. Biden named Russia as “the biggest threat to America right now in terms of breaking up our security and our alliances” and A. Blinken, the new Secretary of State, was clear in his interviews (See uploaded links on the FP webpage)

It is unlikely that USA tries another attempt to start anew with Putin. Biden’s team will be walking a careful line of sticking to values in places like Belarus, where there’s little room to actually do much; trying to support Ukraine, which has and presents its own problems; and finding a way to rationalize sanctions without looking weak—all while trying to move forward on arms control and lessen tension. Here is why:

-The Biden administration’s attention is likely to be on domestic issues (such as making sure that the US has an efficient cyber-defense) and FP wise on China commercial and military expansion, meaning the USA/Russia relationship may have to take a backseat to other priorities.

-The Biden administration will not over-think Russia policy because as long as Putin remains in power there is little point in spending precious U.S. diplomatic and presidential time and effort in trying to improve U.S./Russian relations. There is no other urgent matter than the nuclear arms control talks (START –Mentioned in a different uploaded document), we have to think that the U.S. policy of containment is probably the most effective U.S. approach in dealing with Putin’s Russia.

Russia would clearly welcome Lebanon with open arms to consolidate its presence in the region (Extending from Syria, Turkey*, Iran, Azerbaijan, and Armenia) but…

What will be the repercussions on Lebanon’s diplomacy, economy and military situations should it decide to move closer to Russia and its axis (China, Iran, etc…)? How to go about and limit Lebanon’s relation with Russia to the matters that Lebanon need without antagonizing other actors on the world scene? What are these matters-Economy, military, cultural-? It is something that we need to think over and come up with a direction to take in our FP bloc after weighing the pros and cons.

*Erdogan’s Turkey is facing troubles with the U.S. and Europe and expecting sanctions due to the S-400, Cyprus, Lybia, Azerbaijan, etc…and might fall at any moment in the arms of Putin’s Russia. (To be considered)