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'Defective, tightly battened down, heavy armored train': a former diplomat told why Russia's foreign policy is ineffective

Former Russian journalist and career diplomat Sergey Konyashin is one of the very few former officials who decided to openly oppose the unleashed by Moscow wars in Ukraine. Sergei retired from the Foreign Ministry in 2021, after 11 years of diplomatic service, and left the country shortly after the start of a full-scale invasion of Ukraine. He worked in the countries of the Middle East and North Africa, that is, in the very direction that Russia declared a priority for itself after the break with the West. However, Sergei is sure that the Kremlin will not be able to achieve any success on the “eastern front”. Sergey Konyashin spoke about the specifics of the work of Russian diplomats and the mood in the Foreign Ministry in an exclusive interview with ForumDaily.

Photo: IStock

Connections and nepotism

According to Sergei, Russian diplomacy is simply ineffective because, unlike Western countries, people occupy prominent positions in the system not on the basis of their business qualities, but mostly on the basis of "nepotism" and personal connections, as well as on the fact of being involved in those or other corrupt practices.

«Moscow is really trying to use the colonial complexes of post-colonial countries and their distrust of the West, but in practice the result of such an approach is extremely small. Russia, unlike the United States, does not really work with the local population, is not able to build effective economic ties or offer a unique technological product. In reality, its presence and actual influence in these regions is steadily declining.”, explains the former diplomat.

Sergey Konyashin notes that Russian embassies often simply do not have the resources for active work, at least somewhat comparable in scale and intensity with the activities of developed countries.

«I remember that during my business trip to Sudan in 2014-2018, I had to visit the American embassy as part of my job. This is a huge area with high-rise office buildings and inner streets. We worked in a small, dirty, shabby building, which is several times smaller than just the parking lot in front of the US diplomatic mission. At that time, I simultaneously performed the duties of the head of the entire consular department, political officer for the Darfur settlement, press attaché and responsible for relations with the association of embassies of Asian countries. I was also responsible for all the issues of cultural cooperation, academic exchanges and other things. For the Americans, each of these areas was closed by a separate employee“- says Sergey.

On the subject: How the United States found out that Putin would attack Ukraine: Americans have been warning Kyiv since autumn, but they were not particularly believed

"Gold rush" to the detriment of national interests

At the same time, the former diplomat is sure that even if Russia increases the staff of embassies in the southern and eastern directions, its work will not become more effective.

«The problem is in the system itself - it is very bony, clumsy. The Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs is more like not a modern living organism that adequately responds to a changing international situation, but a faulty, tightly battened down, heavy armored train that is only capable of moving forward along the rails by inertia. The directions and priorities of foreign policy are not built by the ministry, but descend directly from the president, who, to put it mildly, does not give the impression of a qualified specialist in this area", - admits Sergey.

In addition, the former diplomat notes that he often witnessed how the private interests of specific people prevail over the state ones.

«For example, Russia is sad known with his support of the Libyan marshal Caliphs of Haftar. This is a rather odious figure who is not supported by any decent state. Under his leadership, a number of rebel movements from Darfur fought, which were in strong opposition to the then Sudanese government. Just at that time, negotiations were underway on the possibility of deploying a Russian naval base in Sudan, but Moscow's support for Haftar greatly interfered with our work with the local side. What kind of strong and trusting relationship with the then President Omar al-Bashir could we talk about if Russia openly supported an ally and sponsor of the armed groups that opposed him?”, – Sergey Konyashin shares.

He suggests that support for Haftar may be linked to the interests of private military companies, with the help of which Putin's friend Yevgeny Prigozhin tried to take control of the deposits of minerals and precious stones on the African continent. At the same time, the logic of state interests required the support of a completely different side.

Sergei in Sudan. Photo from personal archive

Lies and whistleblowing

«Employees of the Russian Foreign Ministry, including the very few professionals and genuine diplomats left there, are very often simply afraid to voice their own opinion if it runs counter to the instructions of their superiors. No one dares to tell the leadership what it does not want to hear. Often it comes to outright absurdity when the performers literally rewrite the same wording in the reports that were used by the authorities when setting tasks in whole paragraphs. This type of eyewash is called "executive discipline" in the Russian Foreign Ministry. As a result, reports, analytical reports and other information materials coming from Russian diplomatic missions to Moscow have very little in common with reality.", - explains Sergey.

According to the former diplomat, the situation is aggravated by the fact that the Russian Foreign Ministry in its current form has long been in principle incapable of effective analytical activity that meets modern requirements.

«We are still working according to the patterns of not even the last century, but in some ways the year before. Russian diplomats collect, process and analyze information exclusively within their country of residence. However, the modern world has long become transparent and interconnected, so looking at foreign policy processes from just one country is never enough. When I discussed working topics with my Western colleagues, I was simply amazed at how much their view of the situation is wider and deeper than ours. There was a strong impression that they did not so much send information to their capitals, but vice versa - they receive high-quality analytics for the region as a whole from specialized institutions“- says Sergey.

Also, according to him, the vast majority of the modern Russian diplomatic staff is engaged in what any fifth-grader can do if they have access to the Internet and an online translator. At the same time, Sergei notes that it is almost impossible to find out how much Russian diplomats themselves support the foreign policy line that they wittingly or unwittingly put into practice, since colleagues in the Foreign Ministry do not trust each other.

«Relationships between employees are usually quite formal, and exclude any frankness. People do not trust each other - and often quite rightly, because they do not know to whom and what your interlocutor will report immediately after your conversation. Yes, unfortunately, mutual whistleblowing really thrives. Therefore, no one will ever, even in the most informal setting, say anything compromising. After several years in the civil service in Russia, even Orwell's 1984 no longer seems like an unrealistic fantasy.”, the former diplomat admits.

As for the attitude towards the war, Sergei Konyashin believes that his colleagues are trying not to reflect on this situation.

«They reason according to the principle: “I managed to get a warm job, I work in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (especially if we are talking not about diplomats, but about the technical staff); I work abroad, I have a good salary, and it doesn't matter at what price I get it. These people either simply do not think about the moral component, or deliberately avoid such reflections. According to my observations, Russian diplomacy has degraded so much that the level of reflection of diplomats is not much different from the technical staff. They are just silent and thoughtless follow instructions from above", he reports.

Does Russia have any allies?

According to Sergei Konyashin, countries like Algeria or Sudan suffer from bad relations with the West, and therefore are forced to build relations with Moscow on the principle of “lack of fish and cancer”, but this is not the merit of Russian diplomacy. If a more pro-Western government comes to power in these countries and relations with the West are restored, ties with Moscow will be seriously weakened.

«Russia does not produce anything of its own. From smartphones to socks, everything is imported from China, Korea or other countries. Speculation that Russia is capable of achieving “technological sovereignty” is just propaganda", - Sergey Konyashin believes. - What kind of "technological sovereignty" can there be in the modern world in conditions of total lies, political dictatorship and pervasive corruption?.

While working in Sudan in 2014-2018, Sergey Konyashin was a member of the working group monitoring the process of a peaceful settlement of the situation in Darfur. In this capacity, he repeatedly took part in the "field visits" of the delegations of the 1591 Committee of the UN Security Council to the Darfur region and participated in working meetings of representatives of the states - permanent members of the UN Security Council with the leadership of UNAMID (UN peacekeeping mission and the African Union in Darfur). Recalling his work in this capacity, Sergei notes that he has never noticed that China has ever shown a special "ally" position towards Russia.

«Beijing acted exclusively in a way that was beneficial to it, according to the principle of “this is ours, this is yours.”', he shares.

Sergey Konyashin. Photo from personal archive

Another example of the impermissibly low efficiency of Russian diplomacy, Sergey recalls from his service in Algeria, which traditionally bought large volumes of wheat from France.

«In order to break into the Algerian market, Russian grain companies have been trying for a very long time, including by corrupt methods, to get the local authorities to reduce the requirements for tenders for the purchase of grain. As a result, when these requirements were lowered with the active participation of our diplomats, a number of contracts that the Russians were counting on were won by the Ukrainians. Thus, even from some of its few successes, Russia is not always able to extract benefits that are adequate to the costs."He explains.

In a word, according to the former diplomat, Putin’s Russia not only has no chance to achieve its constantly declared goals of becoming the “center of the new world”, but even to maintain the remnants of its influence at the current level in those few countries where it still exists.

«After the start of the genocide of the Ukrainian people by Putin's army, Russia not only becomes, but has already become a pariah", - says Sergey Konyashin. - "The only thing that can save our state from the inevitable collapse and, possibly, disintegration, following the example of the USSR in 1991, is the speedy removal of Putin from power.».

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After his dismissal from public service in April 2021, Sergei tried to engage in social activities aimed at promoting democratic initiatives in Russia, but in May 2022 he considered it safer for himself and his family to leave the country.

Currently, he is in Israel and is trying to develop his new international public project “Razor the tyrant!”, aimed at weakening the Putin regime by economic means, in particular, by increasing the outflow of the most economically active segments of the population from Russia.

«The fewer highly educated specialists and professionals will support Putin's criminal regime with their taxes and labor, the faster he will cease to pose a threat to neighboring countries and his own citizens.”, - Sergey hopes.

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