The decade of the 2000s is amazing for the dynamism of its opening and closing years, just as the middle of the decade was amazing for its gloomy conservatism. The events of September 11th, 2001, and the coming to power of Barack Obama, which coincided with the world financial crisis, present a sharp contrast with the “Texas-style” routine of the traditional US imperialism from 2002 to 2009. Both at the beginning and at the end of the decade, the world was scared: in the former case, at the threat of transnational terrorism, which had long been brewing in globalization’s womb, but nevertheless erupted with unexpected suddenness. In the latter case, at the global crisis of the virtual financial system, which precipitated the entire world economy into a recession.
But there is a fundamental distinction there. In the wake of the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington, the US lurched to ideological and political fundamentalism, to the cherished Republican idea of “global leadership through force”. With the advent of the crisis, which ousted the Republicans from power, accidentally or predictably, America, by contrast, started sending signals to the world of its readiness to be humble, to give up on unilateralism and return to the legal field of concerted actions. The EU highbrows, who had long been dreaming of getting rid of the Bush team, in a “paroxysm of delight” at what they perceived as evidence of Barack Obama’s novelties, awarded the Nobel Peace Prize to him, by way of advance – a historically unprecedented case.
In terms of world politics, the “Obama revolution” is so far a phenomenon of political psychology and image-making. Its real achievement is that it “froze” the global trend towards growing anti-American sentiments, which had been a persistent feature of the international scene over most of the 2000s. Not only the populations of Arab and other Muslim countries, but also people in France, Germany, Spain, Italy, and a number of other EU countries, let alone Turks, the Chinese, Russians and the inhabitants of almost all Latin American countries, were largely hostile to American policies. It could well be said that never before had the international reputation of the US policies dropped to such a low as under the two Republican administrations.
It was worse than during the Vietnam War. But then high-powered propaganda machines of the Soviet Union and China, as well as the Communist parties supporting them all over the world, had been working against the USA. In the 2000s, there was nothing even remotely similar to that well-organized system of anti-American propaganda anywhere in the world. The anti-Americanism was spontaneous, it came “from the grassroots” and consequently was much more sincere and thus “reaching to the hearts”. It was impossible to counterbalance it even with the well-planned campaigns waged by the English-language electronic mass media speaking ad nauseam about President Putin’s “evil-mindedness” and the “demise of democracy” in Russia. However, even a man in the street, who could use his head, reflecting on all this, thought, “After all, Putin is a Russian man, very much like George W. Bush, an American, and Russian democracy is probably not less liberal than, say, democracy in Turkey.”
Indeed, Barack Obama managed to pull the US out of the “credibility gap” literally in a few months. Anyway, it is unequivocally so for the citizens of the European Union. And if the decision of the Nobel Committee was based on the assessment of how much the US president had done to prop up the image of the most powerful and potentially the most dangerous country on our planet, it may well have been anything but hasty and unfounded.
However, the EU citizens had better reasons to fall in love with Barack Obama. Having taken over from the arrogant George W. Bush, who was always making it clear to the Europeans that he could well go without the support of “Old Europe” or could play on its perennial frictions with “New Europe,” Obama seemed to be a savior angel. He rescued the EU countries from the “insignificance syndrome,” which had traumatized them so much under the Republican administration. An emphatic stress of the Democratic administration on the need to reckon with the EU and heed the opinions of its European NATO allies was like the healing balm for the wounds of injured pride that the French and the Germans had been suffering from since the Iraq war was launched despite their laments. The Nobel Committee knew what it was up to. Plainly, in this specific case it was acting “regionally rather than globally”, as a purely European, or, to be more precise, a European Union institution, even though it usually seeks to be perceived as a world institution.
From a Russian perspective, both Obama’s contribution to maintaining world peace and a very brief record of his innovations (so far) look radically different from how they are seen from the EU capitals. The disparity in these perceptions is determined by a weighty factor of a military-political character. Even while deliberately demonstrating its dismissive attitude to the governments of France and Germany in the mid-2000s, the Bush administration never sought to threaten them, directly or indirectly. The dispute between the groups of West European elites and the groups of American elites was political and psychological in nature. The EU countries were insisting on “due respect.” Bush never showed such respect for them, whereas Barack Obama set out on a tour of Europe in the spring of 2009 and demonstrated just such due respect for them. Moreover, he did it with elegant ease and a charming smile. The problem was almost completely resolved overnight, and no one called for guarantees that the newly acquired mutual affection would be irreversible.
In Russia’s case everything was entirely different. Under Bush, Americans sought to ignore Russia almost in the same way as the countries of “Old Europe”, save Britain. But as distinct from them, Moscow found itself faced with an indirect threat from the US during the events around South Ossetia in August 2008. All this could probably be put behind, but, first, it probably shouldn’t be forgotten, and, secondly, this would be much more difficult to forget than the usual American incivility.
The fundamental problem in relations between the US and Russia is how to restore trust. In this sense, the bilateral relations have been set back by 20 odd years, if not more. Indeed, under Gorbachev, we believed that we would never again have to fear the US, whereas after the “Georgia events”, in the State Duma, and, to be sure, elsewhere in the country, many think of dangerous scenarios in relations with the US. Hence, a vehement debate on issues which seem purely technical, such as whether the old technical agreements on the mechanisms of verifying compliance with START-1 (providing for the US on-site inspections at Russian military plants) should be extended or if new agreements should be drawn up.
The notions of transparency then and now can be quite different. The 1990s agreements were permeated with trust in Americans and the confidence that under no circumstances would the US pose a threat to our country. The agreements of the 2000s can also envisage measures to ensure transparency, but whereas in the old agreements the maximum transparency was envisaged, now it may be minimal transparency. In a situation of rough equivalence the utmost transparency for each other is reasonable. In a situation of undisguised superiority of the United States, when Russia has to rely on its ability to respond “asymmetrically”, the issue of information becomes critical. In the latter case it is important to remain at the very least not entirely transparent for the rival party. Americans do not believe that Russia intends to attack the US or, indeed, is capable of getting away with such an attack. “Fostering transparency” means contributing to greater American superiority.
Certainly, the US administration’s foreign policy is first and foremost not its policy vis-?-vis Russia. Searching for ways of accommodation in Iraq on US terms, preventing a comeback of the Taliban to power in Afghanistan, rendering support to any viable government in Pakistan with a view to eliminating the danger of Pakistani nuclear weapons falling into the hands of anti-American radicals, and devising an effective formula of keeping Iran at the pre-nuclear level of its international ambitions, – this is a far-from exhaustive list of the most challenging US foreign policy tasks. In two out of the four above-listed issues the price of the question is the lives of the US soldiers. In the other two – the question of whether the armed force is to be used is becoming ever more practical.
Can America afford to launch another regional war or allow one already under way to expand, if American voters hope for priority attention of the Democratic administration to be diverted to the socio-economic problems of the USA and the elimination of the consequences of the crisis? In principle, it still can. At least it seems so. But it is eventually beginning to feel seriously concerned about a possible overstretch.
Even against the backdrop of all these questions, the ideological struggle over which country has more “American-style” democracy, and which has less of it, continues to be highly important for the US elite. Among the president’s advisers there are plenty of experts who specialize in devising the rationales for exporting democratic revolutions. Yet, one gets an impression that sober-minded calculations have for the time being prevailed in Washington: with extremism being the main enemy, “any democracies” can become America’s “ad hoc allies,” if not “partners for life”. At least, until America succeeds in undoing the knots of the Middle East politics.
No one in the White House intends to give up on involving Ukraine and Georgia in NATO. But today another thing is more important. If the US security policy is preoccupied with the Middle East (understood as the region from Iraq to the western border of India), then Russia as well as the EU countries, constitutes the rear support area for the US global campaign against extremists. And with such a large-scale war underway, one had better have loyal or at least benevolently neutral partners in the rear area. In our opinion, here lies the key to appreciating the roots of the newly acquired pragmatism of the US Democrats’ foreign policy, a feature that before the 21st century, was, as a rule, intrinsic to their rivals, the Republicans.
Russia’s distrust of the United States did not prevent the Russian politicians from welcoming the new trends in the US policies. Indeed, the US Democratic administration’s decision to abandon its tenet that it was impossible to do without deploying elements of the ABM system infrastructure in the Czech Republic and Poland puzzled Moscow and simultaneously became a source of cautious optimism for the Russian government regarding the prospects of Russia’s relations with Washington.
In 2009, it was hardly possible to hope for a “cloudless future.” Bur so far it was sufficient that Barack Obama’s new policy signaled his intention to build relations “in a way different from the past.” Following August 2008, this was also welcome, because relations had then reached a low that had not been seen since 1983 (when US medium-range missiles were deployed in Western Europe.) President Dmitry Medvedev in general terms enthusiastically welcomed the changes in the US policies, and the working talks on a new arms control agreement picked up momentum. A brief meeting between the two countries’ presidents took place on the sidelines of the G-20 summit in Pittsburgh in September 2009, followed a month later by a meeting between Hillary Clinton, the US Secretary of State, and Sergei Lavrov, the Foreign Minister of Russia, in Moscow.
Meanwhile, uncertainty remained in how the Russian leadership appraised the situation and the prospects of relations with the US. The negative experience of frustrated efforts to work out a mutually acceptable formula of cooperation with the Republican administration was, willingly or not, projected onto the attitude to the new administration. The events of August 2008 had too profound an impact on the Russian elite for it to be able to return immediately and without reservations to the policy of seeking accommodation with Washington, simply because “it’s necessary to be friends with the USA”. No one could give a comprehensible answer to the seemingly simple question, what was to be done if it were proved impossible to maintain more or less harmonious and thoroughly friendly relations with the US? Can or cannot Russia in principle develop successfully outside the US-oriented vector, whatever the verbal cover-up is?
To all intents and purposes, this is what the Russian leaders had been reflecting on for at least the first nine months [of the new administration], until the mid- September 2009. It was then that the idea matured and was broadly formulated, that partnership with the West was “not indispensable”, i.e. it was not essential. It was couched in extremely cautious terms: it is necessary to cooperate with the West, but it is not an end in itself. Russia has its own national interests in world politics. If it is possible to pursue these interests in cooperation with the West, – so much the better. But if for some reason cooperation with the West does not materialize, Russia will continue along its path on its own.
In fact, what this implied was that Moscow gave up the unconditional orientation towards cooperation with the USA. This cooperation was still considered important, but now Russia sought to make it conditional on the need for some of its requirements, which it saw as important, to be taken into account, in particular, on issues of European security. The new approach differed dramatically from the doctrine of the “community of interests,” and the doctrine of “solidarity among democracies,” which was the stepping-stone of Russia’s foreign policy following the disintegration of the USSR, from which no Russian leaders had hitherto had the boldness to publicly dissociate themselves. It can well be said that in a sense, giving up the “presumption of indispensability” was Russia’s belated response to the US unilateralism, albeit in a very mild form.
It was quite obvious that the “doctrine of dispensability” was something which underpinned Russia’s position during the first encounter between Dmitry Medvedev and Barack Obama in Moscow in July 2009. Russia did not abandon this platform afterwards, because the meeting of the two presidents failed to clarify what could be the practical parameters of Russian-US rapprochement, the need for which was theoretically, emotionally and eloquently proclaimed by both leaders, in the way intrinsic to either of them.
The mentality of Russian politicians started changing somewhat after Barak Obama’s bold initiatives with regard to the ABM infrastructure. The lingering distrust of the US, and expectation of some form of linkage between the US decision and some demands unacceptable for Moscow, as yet unknown, that Russia was expecting to hear, made Moscow proceed with caution. But at the same time, it was impossible to ignore the changed US position.
On September 10th, 2009, almost to the day on the anniversary of the well-known events in New York and Washington, the Russian president published on the Web the outline of his forthcoming address to the Federal Assembly in the form of an article. This article formulated Russia’s priorities in a new way. “Our foreign policy should be determined by the long-term strategic goals of modernizing Russia rather than by nostalgia,”1 the Russian leader declared.
But this statement was a lead-in to another idea. Dmitry Medvedev said unequivocally that the modernization of Russia’s democracy and the formation of a new economy are impossible without the intellectual resources of the post-industrial society. The issue of harmonizing relations with the Western democracies, he explained, was not a question of taste or personal preferences. The domestic financial and technological capabilities of Russia were insufficient to ensure a real rise in the quality of life for Russian citizens. “We need the money and the technologies of European, American and Asian countries. In turn, these countries need the Russian potential,” Dmitry Medvedev went on.
The outline of the forthcoming address was, no doubt, primarily targeting the domestic audience. Apparently, the president wanted to prepare the country’s society for a possible new round of rapprochement with the West, without disavowing the platform envisaging an autonomous Russian path in world politics, exemplified in the idea of the “dispensability” of the USA. Seeking to combine the two diverging concepts (that of an autonomous path in pursuit of the national interest and that of cooperating with the West for the sake of modernization) the president showed himself, on the one hand, as a nimble-witted or, maybe, a resourceful politician, and, on the other hand, as a person who does not care if Western commentators accuse him of lack of integrity.
It seems that it was important for the president to assure his fellow-citizens that he was not going to “surrender” to Obama’s charm.” That is why he found it necessary to insert in the outline of his forthcoming address statements of the inadmissibility of talking about the “infallible and blissful West” and the “perennially underdeveloped Russia”. He spoke out sharply against “confrontation, self-isolation and mutual recriminations,” but it was not clear from the context which side he believes to be the initiator of such trends and recriminations. The most important passage, however, came in the end, “There should be no weaseling and cozying up. And if a threat emerges to our interests, we should defend them with determination,” by openly and unequivocally stating our position.
There is no doubt that the Russian government has approached the opportunity of improving relations with Washington very seriously. But it does not look likely that a possible new rapprochement will follow the paths that are familiar from the past 15–17 years, starting with Boris Yeltsin’s years. Russia has long been learning, with great pain, how to tell the West about its demands, and it is unlikely to forget the lessons it has learnt.
It should be noted that the idea of getting ready for the “worst case scenarios” in the conduct of foreign affairs, i.e. with a minimal hope for establishing rapport with the USA, has over the past years found its way to different levels of foreign policy making. In the formal speeches of the head of the Russian Ministry for Foreign Affairs the stress on the idea of “network diplomacy” is easily identifiable, which is absolutely new for Russian policy. The network method of diplomacy is contrasted with the hierarchy in international relations, and, it would be safe to assume, is a means of neutralizing or bypassing this hierarchy2.
The network method seems to imply, first and foremost, engaging in multilateral diplomacy within different types of groups, such as the one de facto constituted by the European Union in world politics. Another example of a group international actor of informal nature and probably not liable to formalization, is the BRIC countries. In fact, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization also looks so far more like a group rather than like a classical international organization-an institution.
The passage in Sergei Lavrov’s speeches to the effect that for Russia today the regional level of foreign policy is more important than the global one has gravitas. Partly, this is simply an adjustment of the well-known statement by Vladimir Putin that Russia should make its international influence commensurate with the increased economic power and start pursuing a global foreign policy at the very least, in providing development assistance. The crisis, which restrained Russia’s foreign policy resources, certainly, made such an adjustment necessary.
At the same time, a “withdrawal into regionality” can be a sign of the relative decline of Russia’s interest in such global issues as countering the proliferation of nuclear weapons, reforming the UN and controlling energy prices. Maybe, the Russian side itself is inclined to link its readiness to cooperate with the USA on global issues to trade-offs with Washington on issues of regional policies. Russia is concerned about the development of regional ABM systems and improvement of the situation in the regions which are of special importance for ensuring the security of Russia’s borders. One can hardly suppose that Moscow is losing interest in the plans of countering the WMD proliferation altogether. Rather, unlike the US, being located relatively close to the arc of illegitimate and “threshold” nuclear powers, from Israel to North Korea. Russia assesses more realistically than the US the potential losses and gains from the hypothetical attempts to stop the proliferation process by bombing.
Preventing a major war remains the international priority that Russia and the US share the most. Russian experts believe that the probability of such a war is fairly low, a belief they also hold in common with Americans. But as compared to the past century, the military-political mentality of Russians has changed dramatically.
The likelihood of a nuclear war with the US is estimated, by and large, as fairly low, while the likelihood of the use of nuclear weapons by various countries of the world, including the United States and, probably, Russia itself, is now higher than 15–17 years ago. Admittedly, what is implied is a limited use of such weapons. But the evolution of weapons systems continues: low-yield nuclear weapons and depleted uranium warheads today are not something rare and exotic, but part of the armed forces’ routine in the US and elsewhere. The process of such weapons becoming routine brings closer nuclear and conventional conflicts, with the likelihood of the latter type of conflict, with the involvement of Russia’s armed forces, e.g. at its borders,- at least theoretically – should be estimated as higher than ever before, – say, since the Soviet-Chinese border clashes on the Damansky Island or in the mountains of Central Asia in the late 1960s.
The Russians’ anxiety over the attempts to expand the military responsibility of NATO to the belt of territories along Russia’s borders is not a panicky attempt to obtain the notorious “right of veto” on NATO decisions. In August 2008 the NATO countries saw Georgia’s declaration of war on Russia as sufficient grounds for declaring that a regional threat existed to all the members of the Alliance. In Moscow the situation around South Ossetia was viewed as a regional threat to security. True, the question of whether a threat from NATO existed or not was not discussed either in the mass media or by informal fora of the expert community. But it can hardly be assumed that the indirect confrontation over the events of August 2008 could have failed to bring about tangible adjustments of military planning of both sides.
The non-participation of Russia in NATO in any form at a time when the Alliance’s zones of military responsibility continue to expand eastward, as far as we can judge, turns into the main source of tensions in Central Eurasia. Apparently, the US believes that the main source of tension is the activities of extremist groups and governments in the Middle East. This obvious disparity between the priorities of Russia and the USA in the sphere of regional security is acquiring an increasing practical significance. The present infrastructure of “cooperation” between NATO and Russia, weak organization-wise, legally untenable and ambiguous in terms of substantive activities, as practice shows, is incapable of coping with the role of a shock absorber in relations between them. The assertiveness of NATO policies exceeds by far the stabilizing potential of the existing mechanism of relations between the Alliance and Russia.
Significant changes have taken place in how parity is perceived, or, to be more precise, its presence or absence in relations between the USA and Russia. In Moscow no one has heard for a long time the voices of those who perceive parity as the equivalence of the sums total of all the warheads, missiles and other means of delivery. It has long become impossible and unnecessary to speak of such equivalence. The prevailing understanding of parity by modern politicians holds that, even in the absence of equivalence of the sums total, both sides should preserve the capability to deliver a retaliatory strike so powerful that the damage from such a strike would by definition surpass the hypothetical gains from delivering the first nuclear strike. But even with such a sober-minded understanding of the situation, there is no clarity with regard to parity.
Several years ago, the US military, probably, within the framework of an information special task operation aimed at probing the expert opinion in Russia, made a statement to the effect that the state of Russia’s defense capabilities had degraded to a level when the country is incapable of responding to a hypothetical nuclear attack. These American assessments, which sounded insulting “to the Russian ear,” provoked a debate, which, however, was fairly subdued or was deliberately restrained – at least by those who saw the publications in the US mass media as the above-mentioned “probing game”. Politicians in both countries kept silent, probably, thereby confirming indirectly that excessive transparency could be harmful.
Yet, the questions that this generated among the public at large, did receive an indirect answer: the mass media in Russia started writing with renewed interest on issues of asymmetric response to potential external military threats. The idea of an “asymmetric response” all of a sudden moved to the position of a universal national security concept of sorts, with its technical parameters remaining completely “invisible,” due to the natural secrecy of the potential “asymmetric response” itself.
Such a concept fits ideally into the traditional Russian mentality: it implies that the country again has an “invisible defender,” presumably, an all-powerful one. The outside world is intrigued, and it also gets something to busy itself with: to find out what Russians are up to. And only the cynical political scientists are all at sea: with such input data it is virtually impossible to produce an adequate and rational analysis of the strategic situation. That is why the Russian priorities in the sphere of military-political relations with the USA can only be second-guessed in general terms.
Provided that no expert questions the superiority of the United States in terms of military power, the top priority of Russia’s policy in all probability consists in countering the US attempts to build up this superiority and to prevent a situation of a foolproof strategic invulnerability of the United States of America. The “asymmetric response” is called upon to become the main instrument of achieving this goal, which, ideally, should make it possible to diminish in the future the USA’s “margin of superiority.” Anyway, this means either restoring the military-political parity between Russia and the USA (if it has already been destroyed) or maintaining it, if it still exists.
Besides, voices have long been heard in Russia suggesting the need to weigh the military capabilities of the USA and Russia against those of other countries, first and foremost, China. Beijing cold shoulders such suggestions. The People’s Republic of China continues to build up its military capabilities apace, by importing military equipment and technologies from various countries of the world. Given these trends in the world at present, it would be reasonable to assume that Russia’s maintaining its military -technological edge and overall power superiority vis-?-vis all other countries of the world individually, except the USA, would constitute the new top priority for Russia in the military-political sphere.
The transformation of border security from a theoretical into a practical issue gives added urgency to the high priority of reforming the armed forces of the country with a view to enhancing their capability to contain conflicts at its outer borders.
The “Saakashvili military venture” in 2008 did not accomplish its military goal. But for Russia it had certain political, reputational, and limited military costs, as well. Given this experience, Russian top priority consists in dissuading any state, by using all the means of persuasion and illustration, from the idea of attacking Russia’s territory, Russian servicemen, Russian citizens generally, Russian military and civilian installations, including those legitimately located in the territory of third countries.
Thinking over and devising Russia’s long-term strategy with regard to NATO is a task of special importance, extremely complicated but urgent. The problem is that among Russia’s military and political experts, many still believe that NATO is just a multilateral military alliance. But the fact of the matter is that this organization has de facto, by stealth, bypassing formal international decisions, come close to turning into a sort of universal instrument of global military-political regulation. Russia, China, India, Brazil and many other countries can hardly see this trend as positive. But it has to be reckoned with. Two lines of action could be suggested in this context. The first option is to counter the geographical and political and legal expansion of NATO. Russia is virtually the only country engaged in doing this, with Beijing and many other capitals looking on from the sidelines with detached curiosity.
The second option – and it is one that should be thought out thoroughly – could consist in searching for ways of association with NATO, provided that its transformation will continue from a military bloc of the 1949 pattern into an international organization, albeit with a limited membership, but more universal in status, functions, the distribution of costs and internal regulations. So far it is only possible to say: NATO seeks to shape the most important decisions on world military-political issues, with Russia not involved in this process at all.
In the economic sphere, retaining some leeway in price formation in the world energy market remains Russia’s top priority. Moscow scrupulously avoids using the “oil weapon” preferring to enhance its reputation as a reliable and predictable partner for for the consumers of its oil. For this reason, while cooperating with the OPEC “at arm’s length”, it does not seek to join the organization, stressing its “intermediary position” between the developed and developing economies.
Russia seeks a similar reputation in the sphere of world gas supplies. But its steps in this direction are more assertive. Participation in a “Gas OPEC” is a claim to an active role in price formation in the gas market. It looks plausible that Russian leaders see oil supplies as a highly politicized means of “bringing some calm” to the world economic situation, a sort of “energy d?tente,” “the relaxation of international tension in the energy sphere.”
Gas exports are seen differently from inside Russia: first and foremost, as a commercial instrument, with a narrower scope of application. Its main designation is to bring revenues to fill the country’s budget, that is why trade-offs on delivery prices are seen as extremely undesirable and devoid of political justifications.
Yet another top priority is closely connected with the energy factor, the diversification both of energy export routes from Russia and the country’s trading and political partners in the world arena, in principle.
It should be noted that, whereas in the 1990s, the official guidelines of the leadership of Russia plainly spoke of the determination to follow the path of aligning with the “advanced democracies”, in 2009 they speak of using the resources of the post-industrial countries to the benefit of modernizing Russia. The difference stands out. Russia feels apprehensive about committing itself rigidly to aligning itself with the West, in view of the likelihood, which emerged in 2006–2008, of the West (primarily exemplified by the US and “New Europe”) departing from the policy of ruling out situations of confrontation with Russia.
The practical steps on the road to diversification so far have been limited to the economic sphere. The Russian government invests a lot of energy and financial resources in implementing the projects of alternative energy transportation routes. Now this is a veritable “bypass strategy” – which has mainly got stuck in the anti-Russian syndromes of Ukraine – by constructing underwater gas pipelines “the North Stream (along the bottom of the Baltic Sea) and “the South Stream” and “the Blue Stream-2” (along the bottom of the Black Sea).
The implementation of this strategy, no doubt, will help stabilize gas supplies to the EU countries and put an end to “gas wars” with Ukraine. However, in the long term, this policy will lead to diminishing earnings for Kiev from Russia’s energy transit to the West, which, for understandable reasons, constantly irritates the Ukrainian leaders.
The policy of diversification is also exemplified in gradually growing energy trade between Russia on the one hand, and China and Japan, on the other. The chronic impasse in revising the terms of the protocols to the EU Energy Charter plays into the hands of the advocates of the so far unlikely re-orientation of Russia’s energy exports to Asian countries, including Israel.
Oil and gas, along with technologies borrowed from the post-industrial countries are, to quote Dmitry Medvedev, the main instrument of modernizing Russia. It is energy resources that are called upon, in the foreseeable future, to ensure the inflow to Russia of the revenues that would pay for the imports of technologies and advanced know-how from abroad. The same revenues should make it possible to implement yet another structural reform of Russia’s economy in accordance with the priorities of innovative development, which at long last, after about six years of wrangling (since the last “oil and gas” premier, Mikhail Kasyanov, was ousted from office) are about to be formally enunciated in Russia. In this context, Vladimir Putin looks like a contender for the office of the first “innovation-oriented” premier of Russia.
It is commonly believed that there are about 50 major macro-technologies in the world, which determine the key tracks of progress in science and technology. Seven leading post-industrial countries between them possess 46 out of the50 (the US – 22, Germany – 8–10, Japan – 7, Britain and France – 3–5). The Soviet Union held leading positions in the world on about 12 macro-technologies. Now Russia seeks to achieve leading positions at least on 7-8 macro-technologies. It is believed that space research, nano-technologies, space and aircraft engineering (using the expertise in military aircraft-engineering), the use of atomic power stations and producing equipment for them could become priority targets.
Russia’s joining the WTO, which is, on and off, effusively commented on (sometimes with gloating, sometimes – grievingly), both in Russia and abroad, in fact does not constitute a priority for Russia. Or, to be more precise, it does constitute a priority, but, to all intents and purposes, in the indefinitely long-term perspective. As of today, the country’s goal is to move towards membership in the WTO slowly and in a strictly managed mode, avoiding undesirable socio-economic and political costs and with protectionism retained within reasonable limits, where it can facilitate the development of new innovation-based undertakings.
In this sense, comments to the effect that, say, Poland, Georgia or Ukraine can block Russia’s joining the WTO acquire an almost comic connotation. Moscow does not want to declare publicly that it prefers to “move towards joining the WTO without haste,” and the above-mentioned countries help it in avoiding such haste. Russia, in general, so far benefits more from bilateral economic ties: within this format, it is easier for it to secure the terms that are to its advantage, as compared to multilateral talks. As for the hypothetical scrapping of the Jackson-Vanik amendment, which has been a constant irritant for Moscow for the past 30 years, if Russia joined the WTO, it would have purely symbolic significance. Everyone has long since got used to it and learnt to build relations with the amendment permanently looming in the background.
It could be more important for Moscow to have a say in how the system of world economic regulation is reformed (the IMF and the World Bank). In December 2008, at the time when universal frenzy over the world crisis was at its peak, various ideas to this effect were being discussed on the sidelines of the G-20 meeting. Among other things, the prospect of “departure from the dollar” was mooted and the adoption of a new world financial accounting unit (Russia, for one, supported such a step.) However, the “moderates” gained the upper hand, and the dollar remained “in place.”
Nevertheless, in the spring of 2009, the next meeting of the G-20 in London saw a very important decision adopted on the redistribution of the voting-weight quotas in the executive management bodies of the IMF and the World Bank in favor of the developing countries, a decision Moscow enthusiastically supported. Although increasing voting power of the developing countries will hardly bring direct benefits to Russia, overall, it means a certain decrease in the predominance that the US still retains in the world economic regulation mechanisms. This logic is consistent with the principled policy aimed at reducing the “balance of superiority,” that the US seeks to secure on all international issues. All this looks very much like the comeback of the “zero-sum game.” Or is it simply over-reacting to the US unilateralism under Bush? Anyway, Russia’s priority is to rule out major trade and economic wars through negotiations and interaction between the state and the business community.
In Dmitry Medvedev’s speeches, focus on issues pertaining to democracy is conspicuous. Both Vladimir Putin and Dmitry Medvedev have spoken and continue to speak of democracy fairly often. Both reiterate (albeit without elaborating on it) the idea that it is essential to build the civil society in the country. At the same time both have proved to be convinced statists, supporters of a strong state, for whom the value of the freedom of choice does not outweigh the value of Russia’s integrity. There is a subtle distinction, though. During his presidency, Vladimir Putin regularly spoke of enhancing the effectiveness of the state. Dmitry Medvedev in the autumn of 2009 deemed it necessary to raise the issue of modernizing democracy, with a view, to be sure, of enhancing its effectiveness.
It can be said with confidence that the democratic idea per se has become not only an inherent part of the lexicon of Russia’s leaders, but has also won the minds of most of the ruling class.
Even Communists in Russia seem to have stopped talking of a “restoration of Soviet power” and are shifting the emphasis to criticizing what they believe, not without reason, to be infringements of democracy at elections (e.g. the abolition of the minimum threshold of voter turnout).
At the same time, the Russian elite firmly adheres to the view that national patterns of democracy, with certain intrinsic features, are legitimate, and that Russia’s current system constitutes one of such national patterns of democracy. It should be noted that political scientists in the USA and in the EU countries in recent years have made a step that had long been called for, towards recognizing that such a view is warranted. Today, in theory, only “demoextremists” persist in rejecting this view altogether. In fact, the practical utility of the view that there are multiple paths leading to democracy, and that a polyphony of democratic patterns exists, has been proven by history.
Back in the 1990s, for instance, the countries of South-East Asia seemed to most Western analysts to be the embodiment of dictatorships. Only a minority of scholars were shrewd enough to use the term “illiberal democracies”3 to describe the political systems of the ASEAN countries. Theoreticians from among the “demoextremists” argued indignantly that there could be no illiberal democracy. Fifteen years have passed. Six years ago, Fareed Zakaria published a book, now widely known, which got some ginger from the collocation “illiberal democracy” displayed on its cover4. Today no one would argue that the term is inappropriate, for reality proves that it is precise in its content and clarifies things.
The commitment of Russian leaders to democracy is not confined to their confidence that it is liberal or sufficiently liberal in character. But, relying on the historical tradition and taking into account the national mentality, they, presumably, proceed from the premise that in different political cultures different perceptions may exist of the optimal correlation between individual freedom and an individual’s duty to a group (a tribe, a neighborhood, a corporation). Or between “competitive equality” and “social justice,” between private initiative and the inclination to rely on a protectionist state, even if the price to be paid is the limitation of freedom (actually, the choice in favor of the lack of freedom!).
Anyway, Russia’s ideological priority is to foster its reputation as a democratic country, at the same time upholding the view that national patterns of democracy are legitimate. Consequently, it would be appropriate to expect that Russian authorities would seek to counter any attempts to “claim a monopoly on interpreting democracy”, any attempts to claim the exclusive right to decide whether certain national patterns of democracy are legitimate or illegitimate. Your humble servant has a hunch that this view could be shared by many in the world. In all probability, the US will have to maneuver on the issue nimbly, with the utmost caution. Otherwise, how can an experiment (and a rather bloody one at that) aimed at building a democracy in Iraq be recognized successful, albeit with reservations?
Within Russia the ideology of a supra-ethnic statism continues to be predominant, in its liberal or even liberal-conservative version (its illiberal versions are exemplified in the platform of the Liberal-Democratic Party of Russia). Its general tenor is that not only will Russia’s economic policy remain, by and large, liberal and market-oriented, like today, but also that on social issues, in educational and information policies, the authorities will devise schemes of presenting materials in such a way that would ensure combining the interests of an individual and those of the state. Russian people still are unable to organize themselves into a society, and they do not seem to be eager to do that. Attempts to organize them from the top (by using the levers of power) or from abroad (by means of foreign assistance) also fail. The tacit motto of Vladimir Putin’s presidency, “Freedom, but not at the price of the country’s break-up,” which the country readily embraced after a miraculous deliverance from Yeltsin, is complemented with a similar motto, which is also plain and clear, “Freedom, but not at the price of law and order.”
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The priorities of Russia’s foreign policy have been taking shape over the past 3-5 years, with the need to achieve rapprochement with the West taken into account less and less. The reason for this lies in Moscow’s growing confidence that the potential of cooperation with Russia has largely been exhausted in the United States. Emphasis on unilateral actions and the potential of global supremacy, Moscow believed, had diminished for the US establishment the perceived value of cooperation with Moscow. In this situation, Russia’s priorities were focused primarily on purely internal economic and political problems of Russia’s society and search for options that would ensure its progressive development if cooperation with the West continues to deteriorate. This change of Russia’s attitude to the outside world had been evolving for several years. It probably cannot be considered irreversible. But it will take some time for Russia to return to the trajectory of rapprochement with the West.
1 Ìåäâåäåâ Ä. Ðîññèÿ, âïåðåä! 10 ñåíòÿáðÿ 2009
2 Òåçèñû âûñòóïëåíèÿ Ìèíèñòðà èíîñòðàííûõ äåë Ðîññèè Ñ.Â.Ëàâðîâà â ÌÃÈÌÎ (Ó) ÌÈÄ Ðîññèè, 1 ñåíòÿáðÿ 2009 ãîäà.
3 Daniel Bell, David Brown, Kanishka Jayasuriya. Toward Illiberal Democracy in Pacific Asia. London: MacMillan, 1995.
4 Fareed Zakaria. The Future of Freedom. Illiberal Democracy at Home and Abroad. New-York-London: W.W.Norton and Company, 2003.