UJCI seminar on Russia-West relations raises geopolitical issues

​Following the fall of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s, relations between the West and the Russian Federation could be described as an awkward embrace at best. However, over the past decade or so, the two sides have gone from the state of relative cordiality to one of mutual suspicion, leading many to conclude that we are in the epoch of a New Cold War characterised by proxy warfare, espionage and machinations around trade.

On Wednesday, 30 May 2018, The Concerned Africans Forum, UJCI and the SARChI Chair: African Foreign Policy and Diplomacy at the University of Johannesburg cordially hosted a Public Dialogue on: ”The New Cold War or the continuation of the Old Cold War? Conceptualising the current Western anti-Russia campaign,” at Auckland Park Kingsway Campus.

What can be said to be at the root of this East-West strain? And why have the West and Moscow not finally found one another despite somewhat promising signs at the dawn of a post-USSR era? And are we indeed in a new Cold War, indeed did the previous one ever end? These were some of the issues dealt with in a packed seminar by one of the leading experts on Russian foreign policy and UJ Visiting Professor, Alex Mazyaev who is also the Head of the Department of International Law at the University of Management TISBI, Kazan, Russia and Editor-in-Chief of the Kazan Journal of International Law and International Relations.

The seminar, which attracted attendance by government officials, members of the business community and students of UJ and other universities, was chaired by author and anti-apartheid activist Professor Wally Serote.

Professor Mazyaev critically engaged with the historical understanding of the fall of the Soviet Union, arguing that it was “destroyed” rather than “collapsed” as is usually understood, implying that the Soviet Union was deliberately and consciously brought down by the Western states, primarily the United States. Therefore, he implied, the current climate of anti-Russia hostility can be understood to be backlash against Russia’s resistance under Putin to be “swallowed” by the West, as it seemed likely in the 1990s under President Boris Yeltsin.

He argued that the western states were displaying double standards in terms of not complying with international law, but at the same time seeking sanctions against Russia, sometimes on the basis of little evidence.

Professor Mazyaev also encouraged a new thinking around global politics that is less centered on state-to-state relations and more on “elites” and thereby shifting the thinking from “international” politics to “transnational” and “supranational” politics.

Dr Essop Pahad, who was the respondent, highlighted that the expansion of the NATO super alliance represented a direct threat to Moscow and thereby made Russia under Putin more likely to respond aggressively. Dr Pahad also raised questions around the domestic situation in Russia in terms of the economic decline of the average Russian both as a result of mismanagement and the sanctions as of late.

The question and answer brought to the fore some of the concerns espoused by the attendees, including whether African states were better served in aligning with the Russians over the Western states, and also on the probability of interference by the Russians on the recent American elections.

Dr Monyae, UJ Confucius Institute Co-Director, thanked all who attended and informed them of the next planned seminar titled ‘Satellite Cooperation: The Next Frontier of Africa-China Relations?’ which is to take place on the 11th of June, and will feature a visiting scholar from China, Dr Zhu Ming, and UJ Visiting Professor Arthur Mutambara.

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