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Rector of MGIMO University: “It Is Price That Will Matter When Choosing Energy Supplier, Not Politics”

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Anatoly Torkunov, Rector of Moscow State Institute of International Relations (MGIMO), speaks about the prospects for energy diplomacy in the context of the EU's current strategy. He also explains why Russia is actively developing relations with Asian countries and lists the major post-pandemic global threats.

MGIMO University is once a department of Moscow State University transformed into a separate institution. MGIMO has always been related to international relations, with a large part of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs' employees graduated from the Institute.

MGIMO never stopped establishing new schools and departments, driven mainly by transformations on the world stage and demand changes indicated by the relevant ministries' need for new specialists. The School of International Business and Business Administration, School of Applied Economics and Commerce, and the Department of Economic and Antimonopoly Regulation are among the many additions. In 2000, MGIMO launched the Institute of Energy Policy and Diplomacy, and at the end of 2020, it joined the Nedra consortium.

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What attracted you to the collaboration, which brings together higher education institutions that train specialists for the mineral resources sector? Which divisions of MGIMO correspond to the main profile of the consortium?

MGIMO pays significant attention to training specialists for leading companies and organisations in the energy sector. I am talking about specialists in energy diplomacy and geopolitics, global energy development in a fundamentally new, digital and innovative economy, international energy cooperation, particularly its legal support.

MGIMO's Institute of Energy Policy and Diplomacy, established more than 20 years ago, graduates specialists in this field.

We can see that the Nedra Consortium opens up additional valuable opportunities for all its members - expansion of student exchanges, organisation of new areas and programs of further education and advanced training.

How do you assess the prospects for energy diplomacy given the difficulties with Nord Stream-2, the adoption of a hydrogen strategy in Europe, and the generally negative image of the oil and gas industry?

It is good to remember that the so-called energy transition, i.e. replacing hydrocarbon fuels from the global energy mix, is a gradual process. Even if plans to reduce the share of oil & gas in energy consumption - notably, in the EU - turn out to be successful, a significant reduction may be achieved only in 20-30 years. And the European Union has a long-term strategy towards becoming a fully climate-neutral economy, extending up to 2050.

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© Kremlin.ru/ Церемония открытия «Северного потока», где были подписаны протоколы о «Северном потоке - 2»

Therefore, there are currently no grounds for a sharp halt or weakening of energy cooperation between Russia and the importing countries. However, in the long term, our state should consider global trends and adapt the energy strategy to improve environmental performance and ensure that the Russian fuel & energy complex remains competitive in world markets.

In Europe and the US, there has been a heated debate about complex environmental issues lasting for many years. Moreover, natural gas as a fuel has come under criticism. What is the attitude towards gas consumption in Asia, wherein renewable energy is being developed as actively as gas production?

Let's look at the various authoritative forecasts of global energy development, presented by such organisations as the IEA, OPEC, major energy companies, leading think tanks. We will notice that they all share a common feature: the global energy consumption of natural gas will be growing steadily. Compared to oil, natural gas is a much safer and cleaner energy source, and replacing oil with natural gas is, for now, the best way to improve the sustainability of generation while maintaining or even increasing consumption.

Europe and Asia are aware of this trend and develop the corresponding infrastructure, including the liquefied natural gas (LNG) port facilities. The notable difference between Asia and Europe is the rate of growth in energy consumption. This is why Russia is actively developing relations with the countries of the Asia-Pacific and South-East Asian regions and is building up the infrastructure to provide opportunities for sales of energy resources. Implementing the strategy of reducing the negative impact of the fuel & energy complex on the climate in Asian countries is also more related to increasing the share of natural gas in energy consumption. In many densely populated Asian countries, such as China and India, quite a high percentage of electricity is still generated by coal.

In Europe, a lot of attention is being paid to the differentiation of hydrocarbon supplies. How do Asian countries see these trends? Do East Asian countries care much about the political attitudes of oil & gas suppliers?

Indeed, the diversification of supply sources is one of the cornerstones of the EU's external energy policy. But the structure of global energy markets is changing now if we look at the transport infrastructure. A key factor behind this transformation has been the development of LNG production.

Whereas in the second half of the 20th century, the main supply of oil was carried by pipeline through long-term contracts, international shipments of LNG are ensured differently. An LNG tanker can leave a US port and be unloaded in the Netherlands, whilst a tanker from Australia can head to China. Long-term supply contracts will be replaced by spot contracts, and the question of diversification will evidently become less relevant.

The most crucial factor would seem to be price - pricing in LNG markets occurs at a regional level, meaning price, not political dynamics, will matter most when choosing a supplier.

Which countries are currently leading in importing Russian education? How has the situation changed over the last 20 years? Which study fields are of primary interest?

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For some years already, the number of international students at MGIMO reaches 17-20%. In Bachelor's programmes, foreigners traditionally prefer to study international relations, economics, law, and English-taught programmes. As for Master's, dual degree programmes carried out with our foreign partners are the most demanded. We have established over 30 such programmes. In the 1990s, we became Russia's first institution to offer a double-degree Master's programme held together with SciencesPo (the Paris Institute of Political Studies).

If we talk about importing countries, Bachelor's programmes are mainly favoured by CIS countries' residents, with their share being slightly over 50%. As for Master's studies, students from non-CIS states prevail - over 70% of the total. Most of our current international students are from Italy, France, Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan.

Twenty years ago, MGIMO founded the Institute for Energy Policy and Diplomacy, graduating specialists in international energy cooperation, energy diplomacy and geopolitics. Is it sought after among applicants? What role is assigned to practice-oriented training? Where do your graduates find internships and jobs?

The Institute's programmes are in great demand among our applicants; traditionally, the competition for free study places is very high, both for Master's and Bachelor's programmes. Applied studies are what defines the International Institute of Energy Policy and Diplomacy (IIEP). They are carried out in close cooperation with strategic partners such as Rosneft, Norilsk Nickel, Transneft and Gazprombank. These organisations have their departments established and running at the IIEP.

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© Студенты Российско-германской магистратуры МИЭП МГИМО и Лейпцигского университета в компании Stadtwerke Leipzig в Германии

Undergraduate and graduate students undergo internships in key government agencies: the Federation Council, State Duma, Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation, Ministry of Energy, Ministry of Industry and Trade; international organisations such as the UN, OPEC, IAEA; the strategic partner companies I have mentioned; and other major Russian and foreign corporations with which IIEP MGIMO has been successfully cooperating since its foundation. These are, for instance, Gazprom, Lukoil, ExxonMobil, BP, Equinor, Eni, and many others. As a rule, our students are invited to work after concluding internships and work placements.

What is your attitude to global universities rankings: their credibility, significance, and role? Do we need to establish our own rating of domestic universities, which would include all Russian universities? What numerical indicators should it be based on?

Participation in international rankings is, first of all, a tool for measuring the competitiveness of a university. At the international level, we feel this competition both as a university and as a research centre. Of course, the indicators within various rankings differ. We always pay attention to what we value, set new goals. For example, for the third year in a row, MGIMO has hit the world's top 100 universities in the QS World University Rankings by Subject 2021 under the Politics category. In 2020 we ranked 41st globally; we had expected that. But about a year ago, we realised we were not present in the Modern Languages subject. We rose to the task and immediately entered the range 101-150 out of 2,000 universities.

We pay much attention to the ranking of world research centres done by the University of Pennsylvania, supported and commissioned by the United Nations. For the second year in a row, we are ranked 8th globally in the list of the best university-based research centres.

There are good ranking agencies in Russia, and they all have their own assessment indicators as well. Developing a comprehensive ranking is not a simple task. It has to take into account the specifics of universities. For example, production and citation cycles vary greatly between physical sciences and humanities.

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During Soviet times, diplomats were people of the highest status - everyone in the country dreamt of becoming a diplomat. Nowadays, youngsters mostly go into business or to work at leading state-owned companies. Compared to the Soviet period, did the prestige of the profession change a lot?

I would not say the profession has lost its attractiveness - it is still not that easy to pass a competition and be admitted to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Graduates from other universities take their chances, too, but graduates of MGIMO show the best results as far as I know.

A diplomatic passport was a cherished dream for many Soviet people; it opened the borders. Nonetheless, we have never stopped being a talent foundry for diplomatic staff, even though we are offering now dozens of programmes beyond diplomacy. Amid the crisis of the 90s, MGIMO graduates made over 70 per cent of newly employed at the Foreign Ministry. During this period, largely thanks to Yevgeny Primakov's authority, the profession's prestige rose again.

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Every January, experts from MGIMO's Laboratory for Analysis of International Relations prepare a forecast of foreign policy trends for the next 12 months. What shall we expect in 2021? The critical threats and main opportunities? And what was the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on international relations?

Unsurprisingly, the International Threats report's central focus was on the pandemic's impact on international relations. Fighting with COVID revealed the principal actors in international relations: the states. It is the state that citizens expect to control measures, protect and guarantee against economic losses. In a way, countries are bringing the spirit of competition to the fight against the pandemic. And international relations did not change much at all: the international arena is one of rivalry, battles and conflicts. The pandemic did not result in universal peace, neither led it to the worsening of conflicts.

Other important areas to watch out for in 2021, according to our researchers, will be the risks of secondary sanctions, climate migration in Africa, digital development and progress in vaccinating the world's population.