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Russia Profile
June 27, 2008
Russia Profile Weekly Experts Panel:
Russia Thinks Globally
Introduced by Vladimir Frolov
Contributors: Stephen Blank, Ethan Burger, James Jatras, Eugene Kolesnikov, Anthony Salvia, Ulrich Weisser

In a myriad of foreign policy speeches, both Dmitry Medvedev and Sergei Lavrov have recently broached sizeable ideas on the transformation of the trans-Atlantic space, claiming that as the European civilization’s dominance in the world weakens, time has come to re-think the relationship between Russia, Europe, and the United States, and a new international architecture is in order. Is the Russian analysis of the global dynamics correct, and are the policy initiatives flowing from it sound? How are the Russian initiatives, particularly Medvedev’s call for a new all-European treaty, viewed in Europe and in the United States? Is there a need for a strategic pause in the trans-Atlantic debate?

In a recent series of policy speeches, Russia’s President Dmitry Medvedev and Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov have begun revealing Russia’s vision for a new world order and the international architecture that would be needed to respond to new global challenges. Russia has broached the truly big issues of world politics.

Moscow believes that after the end of the Cold War, the long period (400 to 500 years) of European civilization dominance has ended, and that a new era of global competition between civilizations has begun.

While rejecting the “end of history” argument that Western values would universally prevail and the world would gradually transform into a big West, Moscow sees a world where global competition on values and models of development rages. The new Russian leadership has also begun to translate this analytical premise into policy initiatives.

In Berlin two weeks ago, president Medvedev outlined a sweeping proposal for a new all-European Treaty and an all-European summit to transcend the current deadlock that NATO expansion, the conflict over Kosovo and the slide of the OSCE towards irrelevancy have created in the trans-Atlantic space.

Medvedev’s proposal should not be simplistically viewed as Russia’s attempt to weaken NATO. Rather, it is an invitation to identify a new positive agenda for trans-Atlantic cooperation, reflecting the Russian leadership’s frustration with and tiredness of the old agenda of NATO expansion, Kosovo, and orange revolutions.

In a major speech last Friday at the Deutsche Bank conference in Moscow, foreign minister Lavrov called for a strategic pause in the trans-Atlantic debate that would imply a mutual freeze on controversial actions, like NATO expansion, U.S. missile defense deployments in Eastern Europe, Kosovo, and frozen conflicts in the former Soviet Union.

Lavrov said that Russia, the EU and the United States should stop “arguing over superficial issues” (like a League of Democracies replacing the UN, or spheres of influence) and focus on dealing with immediate real-life challenges where interests clearly coincide (like arms control, counter-proliferation, combating terrorism, etc).

Warning against “sliding backward into the past,” Lavrov called for the trans-Atlantic cooperation to deal with the global challenges that could not have been effectively dealt with during the Cold War ­ fighting world poverty, hunger, and communicable diseases.

Both Medvedev and Lavrov made it clear that Russia’s new big ideas on trans-Atlantic security recognize the U.S. role as that of an essential partner for Russia and the EU. However, both clearly stated that Russia insists on having an equal role with the EU and the United States in dealing with European security challenges and forming the new institutional architecture in the trans-Atlantic space.

Why is Russia raising these significant issues now? Is the Russian analysis of the global and, particularly European dynamics, correct, and are the policy initiatives flowing from it sound? How are the Russian initiatives, particularly Medvedev’s call for a new all-European treaty, viewed in Europe and in the United States? Will they get any traction? Is there a need for a strategic pause in the trans-Atlantic debate? Is there a need for a new positive agenda between Russia, the EU and the United States? Will the West engage Medvedev on the new agenda?

Eugene Kolesnikov, Private Consultant, the Netherlands:

Russia emerged as an agent of change within the West. World economic and political systems are in turmoil, fueled by the structural crisis of the traditional capitalist economic and social model, the rise of non-Western powers, and the political awakening of the South. The West is poised to lose the most if the situation escalates into an outright crisis, and it is desperately seeking solutions. For a number of reasons, Russia is spearheading a change in the Western attitude to dealing with this turmoil.

The Western response to the accelerating instability and redistribution of power in global economics and politics has been schizophrenic at best. America opted for a solution based on sheer power domination, legitimized by a pseudo-democratic liberal ideology. This is manifested by the unprecedented military build-up, including the push for a missile defense shield and the militarization of space, unilateral military and political interventions, and increasing economic nationalism. America is trying to co-opt Europe and some other allies into this power pyramid. It wants Russia to join in as a subordinate, or else be left out of the fortress.

Europe, on the other hand, has been unable to make up its mind and come up with a cohesive strategy. It more often than not succumbs to the United States, on whose military power it depends. It is split in its attitude toward Russia. Its political elites are divided on the issue of building an EU super-state. Internal societal pressures inexorably push it toward economic and political nationalism. It is mired in the conflict between ideology of the Western democratic pre-eminence and the pragmatism that the world affairs compel it to follow.

Here comes Russia: set to be a sovereign power, cleansed from any ideological fervor, vitally interested in extending the lifespan of the capitalist economic system necessary for the country to survive and prosper, and willing to be completely pragmatic in world affairs. Russia does not believe that the American power pyramid will work. It thinks that it may end up in a disaster. And it is not the only country that thinks so. Look at China and India, South America and the Middle East, or even Germany and France.

Russia put really big issues on the table. In a nutshell, it proposes three things. First is the creation of a unified North­a United States-EU-Russia alliance that implements coordinated security and economic policies of the new West in world affairs. It offers Russia’s natural resources, territorial, scientific and human potential for mutually beneficial integration with Europe and America. Second is the need to recognize the inevitability of the rise of non-Western powers, drop off ideological zeal and manage world affairs pragmatically, by engaging with the new powers and using collective forums, such as the UN Security Council, in shaping the new world in the least confrontational manner. And third is the reshaping of the economic world order by establishing a more inclusive and diversified system, and sharing some economic benefits with the South before it is too late.

This is quite a change of the paradigm. No wonder that the West is dumbfounded. But are there any better alternatives? The current Russian leadership does not see any. The West, unfortunately, is not yet ready to face reality and make a bold step to save itself and avoid a disastrous fallout.

James George Jatras, Principal, Squire Sanders Public Advocacy, Director, American Council for Kosovo, Washington:

If, during the height of the Cold War, anyone had suggested that a future foreign minister of Russia would appeal to a “European civilization having common Christian roots” in contrast to “militant secularism” tantamount to a “state religion” championed by Washington, he’d have been told to get his head examined. So ends the contest between God-fearing Americanism and godless Bolshevism.

Both president Medvedev and foreign minister Lavrov cited the devastating impact of two world wars and the Cold War in support of the need to repair relations among the three essential components of the common European civilization. The European auto-genocide that began in 1914, and which demographic trends indicate still has not ended, makes such repair indispensable. As Lavrov observed, several centuries of global dominance by Europe (in the broad sense, including America and Russia) are coming to an end. As the relative weight of the “three branches of European civilization” (as Medvedev called it) wanes, that of other powers, notably China and India, not to mention Islam, is waxing. The inescapable implication is that we’d better get our act together, right now.

Referencing Russia’s “understandable, pragmatic interests, devoid of ideological motives,” Lavrov proposed positive initiatives, such as a pan-European summit and a time-out on destructive, ideologically driven, made-in-Washington projects like Kosovo independence, a missile system in the Czech Republic and Poland, and NATO expansion eastward. Restoration of the rule of law in international affairs ­ most crudely violated by Western countries’ recognition of Kosovo in contravention of the UN Charter and the Helsinki Final Act ­ is an absolute necessity. Such restoration not only can help reanimate natural intra-European, including U.S.-Russia bonds, but provide a mechanism for constructive incorporation of the rising non-European contenders into a new pluralistic, multipolar structure.

Let’s hope the Europeans will listen with an open mind, because the Americans most assuredly will not, at least not anytime soon. As I’m sure the Russian side suspects, their appeals will do little to change the ideological agenda in Washington, which projects its own pathologies onto Moscow in the form of accusations of “wounded feelings,” “hidden agendas,” and “neo-imperial aspirations.” “It sounds paradoxical,” said Lavrov, referring to the U.S. attitude toward Russia, particularly under the lame-duck George Bush Administration, “but there was more mutual trust and respect during the Cold War.” Or to put it another way, the people now in charge in Washington hate a post-Soviet Russia that is reviving its patriotic and Christian roots more than their predecessors hated communism.

It may be hard for Russians to believe, but their talk of a shared European civilization has zero positive resonance with their American counterparts, who simply do not view the world through such a lens. The only reality that matters here in Washington is our continued and extended hegemonic power, packaged under the label of “promoting democracy and human rights” or some other such nostrum. Whether under President John “League of Democracies” McCain or President Barack “Concert of Democracies” Obama, we can be sure the next administration will maintain and even intensify our obsessive pipedream of marketing a positive image of America to the Islamic world, joined with our fixation on humiliating, dominating, and eventually dismembering Russia.

This sorry state of affairs will continue, that is, until we bump up against a reality that finally dispels our aspiration to universal supremacy. The least painful way for that to happen is for our European satellites ­ the other audience the Russians were addressing ­ to stop acting as our enablers. Even more successfully after the Cold War than during it, Washington has been able to pressure the Europeans to support us on key issues like Kosovo and the missiles by posing it as a zero-sum-game with Moscow: you have to choose ­ it’s them or us. Only when ­ or more likely, if ­ Europe sees this ruse for what it is, can there be the possibility of isolating Washington sufficiently to force a change. In the meantime, while keeping the door to Europe open, Russia would do better to rely on friends outside of Europe.

Ulrich Weisser, Vice Admiral ret., former Director for Plans and Policy and Chief of Political Advisory Group to the German Minister of Defence, Bonn, Germany:

Today NATO is defined by three different schools of thought that are likely to contradict and therefore to block each other. The United States has increasingly used the alliance in order to expand America’s sphere of influence in Eastern Europe and in Central Asia, by encircling Russia based on a strategic thinking much in the same way as during the Cold War. Washington wants to transform NATO into an instrument of global intervention that it can deploy whenever Western interests are at stake, anywhere in the world. Mostly for historical reasons, the new NATO members in Eastern Europe define their security needs in terms of opposition to Russia, and seek American support as a result. In contrast, the Western European NATO states are aiming for a balanced relationship and a real strategic partnership with Russia based on the idea that peace and stability in Europe can be obtained only with Russia, not against Russia.

Instead of concentrating on key strategic issues, NATO is internally debating whether the alliance should limit enlargement or be open for the accession of new members, whether to develop a constructive partnership with Russia or be prepared for Russian unpredictability, whether NATO should go for extended partnerships on a global scale or set regional priorities.

Since NATO is lacking a vision and a mission, a deep drafting debate about new challenges and possible common answers has to be initiated. Against this background, the Russian political initiative to develop an all-European security arrangement will have a favorable perspective, due to its timing and substance. In a time in which all fundamental principles that do determine the understanding of the Atlantic Alliance are subject to controversial debates, the search for new ideas is gaining increasing relevance.

The alliance, however, has so far not given any political answer to the Russian proposals as presented in Berlin by the Russian president. The immediate Western bureaucratic reaction to the idea of a pan-European security arrangement is mainly focused on the fear that it is directed against collective defense, as the very essence of NATO. But this perception has no reason.

The challenges of today and tomorrow can only be mastered if Russia, the EU and the United States do cooperate politically and strategically on the basis of newly defined common interests and a common threat assessment.

This is particularly true for the wider Middle East ­ the region with the highest concentration of potential for crisis and conflict, and with the bigger part of the world energy reserves. Neither the United States nor the EU nor Russia alone can master the challenge to stabilize this region.

Ethan S. Burger, Adjunct Professor, Georgetown University Law Center, Scholar-in-Residence, School of International Service, American University, Washington, D.C. :

A friend of mine is a civil engineer and his wife is an archeologist. They once remarked to me that after the fall of the (Western) Roman Empire, nothing of major technological, scientific or cultural significance happened in Europe for nearly 1,000 years. The engineer in particular enjoyed being flippant and had a tendency to speak in generalities. Yet, the more I studied the development of Western civilization and its interactions with other cultures, the more I began to appreciate that their remark had a great deal of validity.

It is not necessary to accept completely Gavin Manges’ “1421: The Year China Discovered America” to appreciate that Asian and Islamic civilizations were more advanced in the sciences and other aspects of life than most of Europe for hundreds of years. Europe’s eventual dominance of the world can be attributed in large part to their ability to "weaponize" gunpowder (which the Chinese largely used for fireworks), and to assimilate technology more effectively than other cultures.

It would be foolish to expect that European/Australasian/North American dominance of the international system and the world’s economy will continue indefinitely. Without a doubt, the bulk of the world’s future population will be living in Asia. Europe is largely experiencing zero population growth, and the population increase in the United States is largely a product of immigration.

At first glance, since Russia and Turkey are both European and Asian countries; there is a temptation to think that they will benefit from an evolving new world order -- a phenomenon that Russian politicians and academics probably appreciate better than their EU or North American counterparts. The fact, however, that the Russians and Turks to a lesser degree see that the decline in the U.S.’s dominance in the world does not ensure that they will be the major beneficiaries of these developments.

The bulk of the Russian population lives west of the Ural Mountains, whereas the country’s natural resources and non-ethnic Russian population are east of the Urals. Turkey has been trying to improve its ties to Central Asia, while simultaneously keeping a presence in Europe. Despite the uneven economic development of China and India, the size of these countries’ populations suggests that as they slowly overcome the political and social forces that retard their development, they will emerge as the dominant countries in the world (in the absence of major wars). This process may be delayed by technological developments occurring in the West, as well as by the West benefiting from a "brain drain" from Asia, but I would think that this will not permanently offset the population imbalances.

Russian president Medvedev and foreign minister Sergei Lavrov may appreciate the direction that the world is taking, but I doubt that Russia has any special role in helping to craft a new world order, other than at the margins (such as supporting permanent membership in the UN Security Council of Brazil, India, and Japan, and a recognition that military power seems to be less relevant today than fifty years ago. The United States and the EU need to understand that the world is changing, but I do not see Russia as having a special mission in facilitating the transition to a new order.

Professor Stephen Blank, the U.S. Army War College, Carlyle Barracks, PA:

Undoubtedly, these proposals reflect Russia’s newly-found confidence that it has recovered and should be entitled to a role in the global directorate with America and the EU. The fact that these proposals are utterly self-serving (they don’t seem to mention anything about using energy blackmail for example), seems to have eluded our questioner. Moreover, as part of their self-serving nature, issues of concern to the United States, like missile defense and NATO enlargement, would be ignored, unlike issues of concern to Russia, like the consolidation of the CIS as an exclusive sphere of influence.

These proposals, like so many earlier Soviet and Russian ones, are also aimed at driving wedges between European states, and between Europe and the United States. They may gain some traction in some quarters, as a result of Russia’ s success up till now in using this tactic, but I have not seen any. It may simply be too soon for this to happen.

In the United States, nothing will come of this because firstly we have an Administration on its last legs, and secondly because Russia has earned universal suspicion across the spectrum of its domestic and foreign policies. Indeed, these proposals fail to take into account the fact that none or few of Russia’s partners trust it very much, or have confidence in its peaceful objectives.

Having raised the stakes so high, for example in regard to NATO offering MAPs (and not memberships), Moscow cannot now turn around and demand a pause in the trans-Atlantic relationship from which it alone benefits. The same holds true for Iran, where Moscow’s wholly disingenuous and self-serving policy to make sure at all costs that Iran is its partner, even as it fashions weapons of mass destruction that threaten Russia as much as anyone else, has led to a reduction in trust and an increase in foreign suspicion concerning Russian aims.

About energy, there is no need to go into detail. Not even China trusts Russian policy on energy, thanks to Russia’s policies here. Finally, there may be a need for a new agenda on Russia-EU-America relations, but it won’t happen anytime soon, since we are undergoing an election to replace an utterly discredited Administration and the EU is in total disarray as the Irish vote. Undoubtedly, the West will engage Russia under Medvedev at some point, but not anytime soon. Neither is Russia as strong as it thinks it is, quite the opposite. So it is unlikely that any bilateral initiative will occur before 2009.

Anthony T. Salvia, Special Advisor to the Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs in the Reagan Administration:

In their recent Berlin and Moscow addresses, president Medvedev and foreign minister Lavrov have effectively called for the forging of an entente cordiale between the United States, Europe and Russia, or, in Srdje Trifkovic's phrase, a new Northern Alliance. This is just what the doctor ordered, and not a moment too soon.

As I have written in this space more than once, such a pan-European entente is not only desirable, it is, in view of the challenges posed by China’s rise and Islam’s resurgence, the moral imperative of our time. The Medvedev and Lavrov speeches represent the most compelling vision of global affairs to emanate from any world capital since the fall of the Berlin Wall.

But they do not emerge out of whole cloth. They have their roots in many sources, ranging from Christian social teaching and classical virtues-based humanism to the writings of Alexander Solzhenitsyn, to Vladimir Putin’s speech at the EU summit of October 2007 in Lahti, Finland, in which, according to the Financial Times, he called on European heads of state and government to "safeguard Christianity in Europe." The FT reported that the assembled EU leaders were taken aback.

Later, in "Containing Russia: Back to the Future?" in Global Affairs, foreign minister Lavrov would evoke Fyodor Dostoevsky in decrying the "anything is allowed" approach to the conduct of foreign affairs, in which traditional, ethics-based moral criteria of right and wrong are brushed aside in favor of standing "above the moral law, beyond good and evil." He went on to reject the Leninist notion that the moral value of an action is determined not by objective criteria of good and evil derived from the Judeo-Christian tradition, but by whether or not it advances the interests of progressive humanity, as Lavrov implies globalists believe. He equates globalism with a decline in moral standards and calls for "humility" in the conduct of foreign policy and the universal application of international law, suspended by the Western powers in their drive to detach Kosovo from Serbia, to mention one example. He hints that globalism has roots in Bolshevism and Trotskyism (he's on to something there), and calls for an international system in which nations "do unto others" as they would have others do unto them.

We see in the views of Putin, Medvedev, and Lavrov not a state ideology (on the contrary, they abhor the very idea), but what could be called an emerging regime worldview, a kind of intellectual prism through which to assess the meaning of events and guide the conduct of policy.

In reading the recent Medvedev and Lavrov speeches, it is astonishing to hear the Kremlin warning the West of the evils of ideology, insisting on the primacy of international law and collective security, and invoking the Christian roots of pan-European civilization. That's the sort of line we in the Reagan State Department used to take in our public diplomacy vis-à-vis Red Moscow. It's what we dreamed would one day inform the Kremlin's thinking about the world, and become the policy of free Russia.

Happily, it has. Nor is Moscow merely striking a benign attitude while following a very different, more sinister policy behind the scenes. On the contrary, Moscow's aims are limited, rational and predictable: to preserve the international legal system enshrined in the UN Charter, influence events in Russia's "near abroad" in ways favorable to Russian interests, and retain the effectiveness of its nuclear deterrent. These goals may at times conflict with those of some of the major and/or lesser Western powers, but one cannot reasonably maintain that their pursuit makes Russia less than a good international citizen.

One has to admire how the Russian state and the Russian people have managed the difficult re-entry into historical time (real reality) after 70 years of stationary orbit at the end of history (the realm of ideological pseudo-reality). If only we in the West could do the same. If only we would set aside our radiant visions of secular/materialist apotheosis at the end of history, and get down to the hard, serious, and joyful business of reviving pan-European civilization based on the moral, intellectual and cultural heritage of Athens, Rome and Jerusalem.