State Duma Goes Global: Intensified Interparliamentary Dialogue

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Alexander Konkov – Director of Rethinking Russia, a Moscow-based international think tank

In an increasingly globalized world, which gradually eliminates communication and language barriers, various types of diplomacy that go beyond conventional formal relations developed through foreign ministries, perform an ever growing role in international politics. The world is witnessing an upsurge in communication channels between civil societies, which reveal new opportunities and new aspects of public diplomacy, people’s diplomacy. Moreover, we can see an increase in new formats of parliamentary diplomacy, which impact on global processes nowadays. They facilitate the direct dialogue between representative bodies which can act on behalf of their peoples. Parliaments embrace features inherent in formal diplomacy (legitimacy) and public diplomacy (the channel for public sentiments and interests, as well as expert opinions). Their synergistic interaction contributes greatly to effectively exchanging opinions and jointly reaching solutions at international venues.

Along with other transformations which have affected the lower chamber of the seventh convocation from the very outset, the increased involvement of the country’s major legislative and representative body in international discourse – at the “outer boundary” of Russian politics – plays a special role. Parliamentary diplomacy increasingly goes beyond the activities of the Duma Committee on International Affairs. Senior policymakers from both chambers of the Federal Assembly headed by the speakers and the deputies engage in a direct dialogue with their foreign counterparts. They go abroad on working trips to neighboring states and beyond, meet officials and representatives of civil society, articulate new ideas, and suggest mechanisms to address various international challenges. Representatives of foreign states, in turn, visit the Russian parliament. They also aim to expand cooperation and jointly deal with the burning issues instead of merely maintaining the existing ties.

Given the urgent foreign policy tasks, the Speaker’s summer trips to Europe and Asia, namely to Serbia and South Korea, are particularly illustrative of the effectiveness of parliamentary diplomacy in the broadest sense. Both states have recently seen the elections and new presidents have come to power. Both states are favorably disposed towards Russia, even if they demonstrate it differently and for different reasons. They have already proved their ability to resist external coercion in the matter of anti-Russian sanctions. Both Serbia and South Korea have consistently expressed their willingness to comprehensively develop bilateral ties as well as strengthen the existing relations.

Speaker Vyacheslav Volodin became Russia’s first high-ranking official to meet with both new presidents, Serbian President Alexandar Vučić and South Korean President Moon Jae-in. The two visits contributed substantially to ensuring continuity and intensifying the political dialogue. Moreover, they served as a catalyst to jointly address most important issues related to bilateral relations.

The Moscow visits of other parliamentary delegations have also been quite fruitful. They increasingly produce joint initiatives fitting into bilateral interaction and the country’s foreign policy priorities. For instance, on his official visit to Russia, Yuli-Yoel Edelstein, Speaker of Israel’s Parliament (Knesset), managed to work out a joint deal between the two countries’ parliamentarians on promoting WWII remembrance. Moreover, this work is already taking shape in the form of measures against real assaults on the truth about anti-Fascism resistance and the Soviet feat. In response to Poland’s amendment allowing Soviet memorials in the country to be torn down, the State Duma and the Knesset issued a joint statement condemning the move as an insult to collective historical memory.

For the first time in 14 years, Lok Sabha Speaker Sumitra Mahajan addressed the State Duma, highlighting the necessity for the two countries to boost economic cooperation against the background of a high level of political partnership. Thus, foreign political leaders restarted their business of delivering speeches to Russia’s parliament. Intensified interparliamentary dialogue serves as a mechanism enabling both sides to expand cooperation in sensitive areas, where consistent and regular efforts are needed.

Contemporary diplomacy, on a parliamentary track in particular, is not limited to bilateralism, with networks and other multilateral arrangements playing an important international role. In the context of pluralistic representative government, such institutions emerge as most effective actors to be in tune with parliamentary diplomacy. Given a variety of interests concerned, such diplomacy is aimed at elaborating and coordinating approaches to a wide range of issues. As independent elements of specific international institutions and organizations, parliamentary assemblies constitute a political mechanism to unite different countries, on the one hand, and act as broad working groups to develop a relevant approach to the key cooperation areas, on the other.

The State Duma’s initiatives to engage internationally are in high demand among other countries as well as voters who want to make their cases globally heard. Russia’s deputies hold discussions on burning international issues, take part in conferences worldwide and give interviews to foreign reporters. The State Duma has always attracted keen interest, serving as a lodestar for those who want to understand Russia and its politics. The mechanism’s development lays the basis for Russia’s self-sufficient, active and effective parliamentary diplomacy abroad.

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