Geopolitics

Lavrov To The West: Your Hegemony Is Over, Your Rules Don't Apply

In Moscow daily Kommersant, a long and fiery response from Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov to the U.S. and European tactics during and after this month's Putin-Biden summit.

Russia's Minister of Foreign Affairs Sergei Lavrov at the New Knowledge Forum at the Moscow Digital Business Spac
Russia's Minister of Foreign Affairs Sergei Lavrov at the New Knowledge Forum at the Moscow Digital Business Spac
Sergey Lavrov

MOSCOW — The frank and generally constructive conversation at the June 16 summit between Presidents Vladimir Putin and Joseph Biden in Geneva resulted in an agreement to begin a substantive dialogue on strategic stability ... But almost immediately after the end of the summit, U.S. officials — including participants of the Geneva meeting — began to assertively return to their former attitude: "pointing out," "clearly warning" and making myriad demands on Moscow. Moreover, all these warnings were accompanied by threats: if Moscow didn't accept the rules of the game outlined for it in Geneva within several months, then it would be exposed to the new pressures.

Washington's instantly voiced backlash in the wake of the talks is quite indicative, especially since the European capitals, having caught the mood of big brother, immediately began to actively echo it — and with pleasure. The gist of their statements: They are ready to normalize relations with Moscow, but Moscow should change its behavior first.

The sense is that this chorus in support of the star performer was prepared in advance, and it was precisely this preparation that was laid out in a series of high-level Western events immediately before the US-Russia talks: the G7 summits in Cornwall and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) summit in Brussels as well as Biden's meeting with European Council President Charles Michel and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen.

These meetings were carefully prepared in a way that leaves no doubt: the West wanted to make it clear to everyone that it is more united than ever and will only do what it thinks is right on the international stage, while forcing others — above all, Russia and China — to follow the course that it sets. The documents of Cornwall and Brussels enshrined the promotion of the concept of rules-based world order in opposition to the universal principles of international law, enshrined primarily in the UN Charter.

Putin and Biden shake hands at the Geneva summit — Photo: Sergei Bobylev/TASS/ZUMA

A series of summits of G7, NATO, and the U.S.-EU has marked, according to their participants, the return of the U.S. to Europe and the restoration of consolidation in the Old World under the new administration in Washington. Most NATO and EU members welcomed this U-turn with relief, accompanied by enthusiastic comments. The ideological basis for the reunification of the Western family was the declaration of liberal values as the guiding star of human development. Washington and Brussels, without false modesty, called themselves the anchor of democracy, peace, and security in opposition to authoritarianism in all its forms, declaring in particular the intention to strengthen the use of sanctions in the interests of supporting democracy around the world.

The new Atlantic Charter (new Anglo-American Atlantic Charter approved by Biden and UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson on the margins of the G7 summit on June 10) was also conceived as a kind of starting point for building a world order, but exclusively by Western rules. Its wording is ideologically charged with deepening the divide between liberal democracies and all other states, designed to legitimize an order based on rules. The new charter contains no reference to the UN or the OSCE, firmly fixing the commitment of the collective West to commitments within NATO as, in fact, the only legitimate decision-making center (this is how former NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen characterized the importance of the North Atlantic Alliance back in 2014).

Russia and China are identified as bearers of authoritarianism, the main obstacle to the implementation of the course announced at the June summits. Two groups of claims are put forward, on both the domestic and international fronts. Beijing is accused of too assertive promotion of its economic interests (the One Belt, One Road project), building up its military and its technological power to increase its influence. Russia is accused of aggressive policies in many regions, posing as such Moscow's policy of countering ultra-radical and neo-Nazi tendencies in the policies of neighboring countries, which suppress the rights of Russians and other national minorities, uproot the Russian language, education and culture. Nor do we like the fact that Moscow is standing up for countries that have fallen victim to Western adventures and have been attacked by international terrorism with the threat of losing their statehood, as was the case in Syria.

They demand Moscow and Beijing (and everyone else) follow Western recipes on human rights, civil society...

Still, the main pathos of the announced Western approaches is focused on the internal structure of non-democratic countries, and the determination to change them according to its standards, seeking such changes in the organization of society that would correspond to the vision of democracy promoted by Washington and Brussels. Hence their demands for Moscow and Beijing (and everyone else) to follow Western recipes on human rights, civil society, opposition, mass media, functioning of state structures, and the interaction between the branches of power.

Sensible politicians in Europe and the U.S. understand the impasse of such an uncompromising course. So far, not in public, they are beginning to reason pragmatically, admitting that there is more than one civilization in the world, that Russia, China and other major powers have their own thousand-year history, their own traditions, their own values, their own way of life. It is futile to ask whose values are better or worse, we should simply acknowledge that there are other forms of social organization as compared to those in the West, accept them as a given, respect them. There are problems with human rights everywhere, but it's time to abandon the position of one's own superiority: we in the West will deal with them ourselves because we are democracies, while you are not yet mature enough; you need help, which is what we will do.

Russia's Minister of Foreign Affairs Lavrov before a press conference — Photo: Russian Foreign Ministry/TASS/ZUMA

The collective historical West, which has dominated everyone for 500 years, cannot help but face the truth that this era is irrevocably passing, even as it tries to hold onto what's slipping away, to artificially slow down the objective process of forming a multipolar world.

Introducing its concept of a rule-based world order, the West pursues the aim of leading the discussion of the key topics to the formats it finds convenient, where dissenters are not invited.

Narrow-group platforms and appeals are assembled to agree on recipes for subsequent imposition on everyone else. Examples include a call for security in cyberspace, a call for respect for international humanitarian law, a partnership for freedom of information.

At the same time, for each such format of like-minded people, the European Union creates its own mechanism of horizontal sanctions, also, naturally, without any regard to the UN Charter.

The West justifies the reckless expansion of NATO eastward to the Russian borders. When we refer to the assurances given to the Soviet Union that this will not happen, the answer is: well, these were just verbal promises, no documents were signed.

Rule-based order is the epitome of a double standard. When it is convenient, the absolute rule is the right of peoples to self-determination. This includes the Falklands 12,000 kilometers away from Britain, remote former colonial possessions that Paris and London retain despite many UN and International Court decisions, which no one is going to liberate, and the independent Kosovo, in violation of a UN Security Council resolution. When the principle of self-determination contradicts the geopolitical interests of the West, as in the case of the free will of the residents of Crimea in favor of common destiny with Russia, they forget about it and angrily condemn the free choice of people and punish them with sanctions.

Attempts by sane politicians to protect children from aggressive LGBT propaganda are met with militant protests.

The concept of rules also manifests itself in an attack not only on international law but also on human nature itself. In schools in several Western countries, children are taught as part of the curriculum that Jesus Christ was bisexual. Attempts by sane politicians to protect children from aggressive LGBT propaganda are met with militant protests in enlightened Europe. There is an attack on the foundations of all world religions, on the genetic code of key civilizations of the planet. The U.S. has led blatant state intervention in the affairs of the church, openly seeking to split the world orthodoxy, the values of which are seen as a powerful spiritual obstacle to the liberal concept of unlimited permissiveness.

Neither NATO nor the EU intend to change their policy of subjugating other regions of the world and proclaiming a self-appointed global messianic mission. The North Atlantic alliance is actively joining the U.S. strategic turn toward the Indo-Pacific (with the open goal of containing China), which undermines the central role of ASEAN in the open architecture of Asia-Pacific cooperation that has been built up for decades.

The EU, in turn, develops programs for the development of neighboring (and not very) geopolitical spaces without much consultation on their content with the invited countries. This is the nature of the Eastern Partnership and Brussels' recently approved program for Central Asia. Such approaches are fundamentally at odds with the way integration associations with Russian participation (CIS, CSTO, EurAsEC, SCO) which develop relations with external partners exclusively on a parity mutually agreed basis.

As for the West's approach to Russia, it is high time to understand that your hopes of having one-sided rules have been finally drowned out. All the formulas from Western capitals about their readiness to normalize relations with Moscow, if it repents and changes its behavior, have lost any sense — and the fact that many continue to put forward unilateral demands to us by inertia does not do credit to their ability to adequately assess what is happening.

Judging by the practical actions of the West in recent years (including the hysterical reaction to Moscow's defense of Russian rights after the bloody coup d'etat in Ukraine in 2014 supported by the United States, NATO and the EU), they thought that all this was not very serious: Russia had declared its principles, so be it. We need to put more pressure on the interests of the elites, increase personal, financial, and other sectoral sanctions, and Moscow will come to its senses and realize that without a change in behavior (that is, without obedience to the West) it will experience deeper and deeper difficulties in its development.

And even when we clearly said that we perceive this policy of the U.S. and Europe as a new reality and therefore will build our work in the economy and other spheres, based on the unacceptability of dependence on unreliable partners, they still continued to believe that Moscow will eventually change its mind and make the concessions required of it for the sake of material benefits.

I will stress once again what President Vladimir Putin has said many times: there were no unilateral concessions at the end of the 1990s, and there never will be any. If you want to cooperate and regain your lost profits and your business reputation, you should negotiate with each other in order to find fair solutions and compromises.

This world view is firmly rooted in the minds of the Russian people.

It is fundamentally important for the West to understand that this world view is firmly rooted in the minds of the Russian people and reflects the views of the overwhelming majority of Russian citizens. Those irreconcilable opponents of the Russian authorities, on whom the West relies and who see all of Russia's problems in anti-Westernism, demanding unilateral concessions in order to lift sanctions and obtain some hypothetical material benefits, represent an absolutely marginal segment of our society. At the June 16 press conference in Geneva, Vladimir Putin clearly explained what the West's support of such marginal circles is aimed at.

They are going against the historical continuity of a people that has always, especially in difficult times, been known for its maturity, sense of self-respect, dignity and national pride, ability to think independently while being open to the rest of the world on equal terms for mutual benefit. It is these qualities of the Russians after the confusion and vacillation of the 1990s that have become the foundational concept of Russia's foreign policy in the 21st century. They are able to assess the actions of their leadership themselves, without prompting from abroad.

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Future

7 Ways The Pandemic May Change The Airline Industry For Good

Will flying be greener? More comfortable? Less frequent? As the world eyes a post-COVID reality, we look at ways the airline industry has been changing through a pandemic that has devastated air travel.

Ready for (a different kind of) takeoff?

Carl-Johan Karlsson

It's hard to overstate the damage the pandemic has had on the airline industry, with global revenues dropping by 40% in 2020 and dozens of airlines around the world filing for bankruptcy. One moment last year when the gravity became particularly apparent was when Asian carriers (in countries with low COVID-19 rates) began offering "flights to nowhere" — starting and ending at the same airport as a way to earn some cash from would-be travelers who missed the in-flight experience.

More than a year later today, experts believe that air traffic won't return to normal levels until 2024.


But beyond the financial woes, the unprecedented slowdown in air travel may bring some silver linings as key aspects of the industry are bound to change once back in full spin, with some longer-term effects on aviation already emerging. Here are some major transformations to expect in the coming years:

Cleaner aviation fuel

The U.S. administration of President Joe Biden and the airline industry recently agreed to the ambitious goal of replacing all jet fuel with sustainable alternatives by 2050. Already in a decade, the U.S. aims to produce three billion gallons of sustainable fuel — about one-tenth of current total use — from waste, plants and other organic matter.

While greening the world's road transport has long been at the top of the climate agenda, aviation is not even included under the Paris Agreement. But with air travel responsible for roughly 12% of all CO2 emissions from transport, and stricter international regulation on the horizon, the industry is increasingly seeking sustainable alternatives to petroleum-based fuel.

Fees imposed on the airline industry should be funneled into a climate fund.

In Germany, state broadcaster Deutsche Welle reports that the world's first factory producing CO2-neutral kerosene recently started operations in the town of Wertle, in Lower Saxony. The plant, for which Lufthansa is set to become the pilot customer, will produce CO2-neutral kerosene through a circular production cycle incorporating sustainable and green energy sources and raw materials. Energy is supplied through wind turbines from the surrounding area, while the fuel's main ingredients are water and waste-generated CO2 coming from a nearby biogas plant.

Farther north, Norwegian Air Shuttle has recently submitted a recommendation to the government that fees imposed on the airline industry should be funneled into a climate fund aimed at developing cleaner aviation fuel, according to Norwegian news site E24. The airline also suggested that the government significantly reduce the tax burden on the industry over a longer period to allow airlines to recover from the pandemic.

Black-and-white photo of an ariplane shot from below flying across the sky and leaving condensation trails

High-flying ambitions for the sector

Joel & Jasmin Førestbird

Hydrogen and electrification

Some airline manufacturers are betting on hydrogen, with research suggesting that the abundant resource has the potential to match the flight distances and payload of a current fossil-fuel aircraft. If derived from renewable resources like sun and wind power, hydrogen — with an energy-density almost three times that of gasoline or diesel — could work as a fully sustainable aviation fuel that emits only water.

One example comes out of California, where fuel-cell specialist HyPoint has entered a partnership with Pennsylvania-based Piasecki Aircraft Corporation to manufacture 650-kilowatt hydrogen fuel cell systems for aircrafts. According to HyPoint, the system — scheduled for commercial availability product by 2025 — will have four times the energy density of existing lithium-ion batteries and double the specific power of existing hydrogen fuel-cell systems.

Meanwhile, Rolls-Royce is looking to smash the speed record of electrical flights with a newly designed 23-foot-long model. Christened the Spirit of Innovation, the small plane took off for the first time earlier this month and successfully managed a 15-minute long test flight. However, the company has announced plans to fly the machine faster than 300 mph (480 km/h) before the year is out, and also to sell similar propulsion systems to companies developing electrical air taxis or small commuter planes.

New aircraft designs

Airlines are also upgrading aircraft design to become more eco-friendly. Air France just received its first upgrade of a single-aisle, medium-haul aircraft in 33 years. Fleet director Nicolas Bertrand told French daily Les Echos that the new A220 — that will replace the old A320 model — will reduce operating costs by 10%, fuel consumption and CO2 emissions by 20% and noise footprint by 34%.

International first class will be very nearly a thing of the past.

The pandemic has also ushered in a new era of consumer demand where privacy and personal space is put above luxury. The retirement of older aircraft caused by COVID-19 means that international first class — already in steady decline over the last decades — will be very nearly a thing of the past. Instead, airplane manufacturers around the world (including Delta, China Eastern, JetBlue, British Airways and Shanghai Airlines) are betting on a new generation of super-business minisuites where passengers have a privacy door. The idea, which was introduced by Qatar Airways in 2017, is to offer more personal space than in regular business class but without the lavishness of first class.

Aerial view of Rome's Fiumicino airport

Aerial view of Rome's Fiumicino airport

commons.wikimedia.org

Hygiene rankings  

Rome's Fiumicino Airport has become the first in the world to earn "the COVID-19 5-Star Airport Rating" from Skytrax, an international airline and airport review and ranking site, Italian daily La Repubblica reports. Skytrax, which publishes a yearly annual ranking of the world's best airports and issues the World Airport Awards, this year created a second list to specifically call out airports with the best health and hygiene standards.

Smoother check-in

​The pandemic has also accelerated the shift towards contactless traveling, with more airports harnessing the power of biometrics — such as facial recognition or fever screening — to reduce touchpoints and human contact. Similar technology can also be used to more efficiently scan physical objects, such as explosive detection. Ultimately, passengers will be able to "check-in" and go through a security screening anywhere at the airports, removing queues and bottlenecks.

Data privacy issues

​However, as pointed out in Canadian publication The Lawyer's Daily, increased use of AI and biometrics also means increased privacy concerns. For example, health and hygiene measures like digital vaccine passports also mean that airports can collect data on who has been vaccinated and the type of vaccine used.

Photo of planes at Auckland airport, New Zealand

Auckland Airport, New Zealand

Douglas Bagg

The billion-dollar question: Will we fly less?

At the end of the day, even with all these (mostly positive) changes that we've seen take shape over the past 18 months, the industry faces major uncertainty about whether air travel will ever return to the pre-COVID levels. Not only are people wary about being in crowded and closed airplanes, but the worth of long-distance business travel in particular is being questioned as many have seen that meetings can function remotely, via Zoom and other online apps.

Trying to forecast the future, experts point to the years following the 9/11 terrorist attacks as at least a partial blueprint for what a recovery might look like in the years ahead. Twenty years ago, as passenger enthusiasm for flying waned amid security fears following the attacks, airlines were forced to cancel flights and put planes into storage.

40% of Swedes intend to travel less

According to McKinsey, leisure trips and visits to family and friends rebounded faster than business flights, which took four years to return to pre-crisis levels in the UK. This time too, business travel is expected to lag, with the consulting firm estimating only 80% recovery of pre-pandemic levels by 2024.

But the COVID-19 crisis also came at a time when passengers were already rethinking their travel habits due to climate concerns, while worldwide lockdowns have ushered in a new era of remote working. In Sweden, a survey by the country's largest research company shows that 40% of the population intend to travel less even after the pandemic ends. Similarly in the UK, nearly 60% of adults said during the spring they intended to fly less after being vaccinated against COVID-19 — with climate change cited as a top reason for people wanting to reduce their number of flights, according to research by the University of Bristol.

At the same time, major companies are increasingly forced to face the music of the environmental movement, with several corporations rolling out climate targets over the last few years. Today, five of the 10 biggest buyers of corporate air travel in the US are technology companies: Amazon, IBM, Google, Apple and Microsoft, according to Taipei Times, all of which have set individual targets for environmental stewardship. As such, the era of flying across the Atlantic for a two-hour executive meeting is likely in its dying days.

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