Sergei Karaganov, writing in Limes:
Dean of the School of International Economics and Foreign Affairs
at the National Research University–Higher School of Economics,
Honorary Chairman of the Council on Foreign and Defense Policy
The victory of Russia and the new Concert of Nations
Over the past several years and especially since 2016 an answer to this question the question “who rules the world?”, a Russian who has been reading the international, and particularly Western, press on a daily basis, has been clear enough: of course, Putin and Russia which he leads. It is Putin who is undermining the world order which was established in the 1990s. Western mainstream media keeps harping on about Putin plotting to direct hordes of migrants from Pakistan, Afghanistan, Syria, and other Arab countries to Europe and even inciting them to attack European women.
Almost everyone says and writes that Russia is behind the success of the right and right-left opposition that is rounding on inapt elites in Europe. Putin and terrible Russian hackers were allegedly responsible for the failure of the coalition of liberal interventionists and neoconservatives that had lost touch with the American people and election of D.Trump.
These and like messages about the almighty Putin and Russia pleasantly tickle the chauvinistic part of my soul. Especially after years of reading about imminent Russia collapse, its weakness, if being a regional state soon to be torn down by sanctions, or isolated. But, of course, my mind contradicts: it knows that it was not Russia, but a series of mistakes bordering sometimes on crimes that brought down the old order. Russia did not like it, helped it to unravel by refusing to follow. But it was a very modest contribution.
This world order, established after the collapse of the Soviet Union, led to the illegitimate recognition by the European Union of the independence of Croatia and Slovenia in 1991, followed by a civil war; to the 78-day bombing raids against the remains of Yugoslavia in 1999; the aggression by the majority of Western countries against Iraq that resulted in its disintegration and hundreds of thousands of deaths; and the aggression against Libya which ceased to exist as a state.
American and Western elites decided in the 1990s that they had won their ultimate victory and tried to consolidate the triumph of “democracy” by force in the Arab world but lost. They also lost Russia by pursuing a neo-Weimar policy against it and having forgotten that this country had always risen from ashes and won.
Throughout a greater part of European history, the Putin’s role was played by witches, then Jews, and then masons, who were eventually merged into a Judeo-Masonic conspiracy in the minds of people and elites who refused and were unable to grasp the complicate hard truth of life. In post-modern times, which are passing, transnational corporations and global civil society were said to be running the world. The liberal ideology, which has just begun its strategic collapse or hopefully, temporary retreat, has proclaimed in the wake of its universalist forerunner, communism – that the state was dying away and will have to be replaced by a world government supported by these transnational corporations and NGOs. (Communist dreamers were imagining a world government run by the proletariat).
Predictably, none of these illusions ever came true. The world is developing further by going back on a new level to the system of nation states though weakened by globalization. Particularly alarming is the “gap” (first formulated by Henry Kissinger some twenty years ago) between exacerbation of the global problems facing mankind, on the one hand, and nationalization of their solutions and deglobalization of governance, on the other hand.
In the 1950-1980s, the world was relatively governable with two superpowers―the Soviet Union and the United States―making key decisions. When a system of stable mutual nuclear deterrence was created, the world also became relatively safe. This system hardly benefitted Russia (known as the Soviet Union at that time), which together with a group of weak and unreliable allies and ineffective socialist economy had to balance out the majority of wealthy industrialized countries in the West and China in the East. This overstrain eventually caused the collapse of the Soviet Union.
It seemed for a historical second that the world had become unipolar and the West led by the United States was destined to dominate forever, that the world would be governed by the hegemon. But this dream began to be shattered right away in Europe by its boundless expansion, several other mistakes, particularly by introduction of common foreign and defense policy, which reduced the influence of great European powers to naught, by the introduction of the euro without a single government, by multiculturalism and refusal to pursue a clear or any security policy. Almost all European countries and the United States gave up overdue reforms. Washington engaged in military and forcible actions―almost to the unanimous approval of its European allies―and lost. The economic crisis in 2008 delivered something of a coup de grace the West’s claim to political, economic and moral supremacy. The liberal economic model proposed and imposed for years began to crumble. It has been rejected almost everywhere, with no alternative offered though.
While the West was relishing its beautiful dream about the “end of history,” the latter it continued to go its own way. By the beginning of the 2000s it had become clear that Asia was snatching economic leadership and China was set to become the world’s number one economy and even the strategic power in the foreseeable future. Actually, it already is, in terms of GDP ranking based on purchasing power parity.
The 2000s became a really disastrous period for the West. Such a rapid downfall in peacetime happened only once when the Soviet Union broke up.
As a result, the vacuum of governance, which had been expanding for objective reasons, penetrated deeper and reached a new quality. The “new” actors began to challenge the remains of the unipolar system. Russia challenged this system in the toughest way. It had realized by the middle of the 2000s that the world―and particularly the Middle East―was heading for deep destabilization, that there was no chance to come to amicable agreement on the termination of the neo-Weimar expansion of Western alliances to territories Moscow considered vitally important for security, and that the world was rolling down towards a new big war. Moscow made preparations: it carried out military reform and made it clear, in word and deed, that it would not put up with the order established by the West in the 1990s. The West responded by throwing itself into a revengeful counterattack, trying to retain its positions.
During the Christmas holidays of 2013-2014, when the long-term confrontation had reached its peak and a head-on collision was inevitable, I reread Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace. I was struck by one phrase which I had somehow overlooked before: “A battle is won by those who are firmly resolved to win it.”
I understood that Russia was resolved and would win, which it actually did by the beginning of 2016. Threats to tear its economy to tatters and organize regime change either through asphyxiating sanctions, organizing “a conspiracy of oligarchs” or popular discontent have been forgotten. So have been the ridiculous promises of “isolation.” Russia has consolidated and begun to win, while those who threatened it are falling out one after another.
The propaganda attack, so malicious that it has undermined trust in all Western news and assessments of Russia as not only in my country, but in the world, has never stopped. But Western mainstream media have shifted from offense to defense tactics, harping all the time about Russia’s ability and readiness to remove and appoint foreign governments, about Russia’s propaganda successes.
But Russia has simply put itself on the “right side of history” by emphasizing not post-modern, but modern or post-post-modern values: national sovereignty, freedom of political and cultural choice for all countries and peoples, personal and national dignity and normal millenniums – old human values. Also it turned itself from a peripheral European country into a great Asian-Pacific Eurasian one.
However, Russia’s victory will not solve all the problems facing the world which is becoming simultaneously more interdependent, less governable and more dangerous.
The situation is compounded by spreading democratization, even in the majority of authoritarian states, multiplied by global informatization or digitalization. People know increasingly more but understand increasingly less. And they are prepared to put forth demands to their governments more and more often, if not daily. The main of them is well-being. Politicians, especially in democratic countries, have to respond to these demands, they are unable to think and act strategically. Political correctness washes away from political classes potent men of action with a strong sense of responsibility for the future. The result is further deterioration of governance. The only partial exception in the West for the time being is the United States where the political system can still spawn some extraordinary leaders like Reagan, Obama or Trump. Obama has failed, although he started off well.
The loosing old elites are cursing “the populism” of the masses. Which, indeed, is ungovernable democracy or democracy where elites loose control over the choice of the masses.
Indeed, it seems that authoritarian countries, with their managed incomplete democracies can be better prepared to compete and govern in the growingly volatile world. The competition for the better form of government, which seemed to get closed after the collapse of Soviet communism, is opened again.
Russia, China and other “new” actors discontent with the attempt at the American hegemony called for building a multipolar world. It has come, but looks more like helpless chaos with growing instability. The first contours of new bipolarity are beginning to emerge in this disarray. Russia and China have proclaimed the aim building the Greater Eurasia partnership open to Europe. The United States and its near neighbors will form the other global center if Donald Trump succeeds in implementing his economic program “to make America great again”. It is important that relations between these two global centers not become antagonistic. Europe with its enormous cultural heritage and still strong economy cannot seek the role of such a center, until it starts overhauling its project, which is steadily spiraling towards a meltdown or even collapse because of above mentioned numerous mistakes and problems.
The world is going through a time when the two previous systems of governance are falling apart. One, bipolar, is ceasing to exist despite attempts to revive it in Europe though revival of NATO-Russia confrontation. The unipolar world is also rapidly disintegrating and is near its end. Almost all international governance institutions are loosing their vitality. New institutions―Shanghai Cooperation Organization, BRICS, alternative banks and payment systems―are still embryonic and no one can say whether and when they will be able to fill the vacuum of governance.
To make things worse the normal norms of international behavior and political decency are collapsing. Witness the avalanche of lies and fake news emending even from the leaders. Elites in many parts of the world are in despair and could not understand where it moves anymore. The moral and intellectual vacuum compounds the vacuum of governance. By all definitions it is a very unstable and even prewar world.
What could be dome to avoid a disaster?
Nuclear deterrence which has saved the world during the Cold War and continues to sober up political circles in leading countries is one solution and must be strengthened. I do hope this is what Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump should be doing by rejecting the reactionary romanticism of nuclear disarmament.
And opening up a dialogue on international strategic stability, involving other nations is a necessity. This stability is being undermined by the absence of dialogue, on the background of new technological developments particularly advent of cyberweapons, which probably have a capacity of mass destruction both in offensive and deterrence modes.
But it would be insecure to rely only on the negative nuclear factor all the time. I believe there is only one possible solution in the increasingly unstable and dangerous renationalizing world―“a new Concert of Nations.” For the time being it would comprise only three truly sovereign and global powers: Russia, China, and the United States. In the future, they can be joined by India, Japan, and some European countries, if they drop the fatal “common foreign and defense policy,” which has reduced Europe’s influence to naught, and pursues a coordinated one instead.
Is this possible? I don’t know. But two hundred years ago at a historical juncture of two eras, the power of Russian bayonets and the far-sightedness of Alexander I, Metternich and Talleyrand allowed Europe, which was the world at that time, to set a relative peace for almost a century and thus created unprecedented possibilities for economic and spiritual development of our subcontinent.