[yt_dropcap type=”square” font=”” size=”14″ color=”#000″ background=”#fff” ] I [/yt_dropcap]f one surveys Putin’s official pronouncements of the last few years on Russia’s historical role in the 21st century, one may soon notice that the language of ideological fanaticism, so prevalent during the Soviet era, has slowly evolved in that of values, character, spiritual identity, tradition and historical heritage.
At first blush it appears that it’s no longer a game of raw power and economics, but one of “soft power,” if not exactly that of reasoned philosophical dialogue, morality, and spiritual vision.
The question arises: has the leopard changed its spots? Is this a new ideology based on a vision, on the “inner strength” to be discovered in centuries upon centuries of Russian history and spiritual ties, the way a Dostoyevsky understood it? In other words, while acknowledging that Russia is not the West with its particular notions of electoral democracy, freedom of speech, and human rights, Mr. Putin and company would like to promote the idea that Russia remains unique: it is not bourgeois, essentially greedly capitalistic; it is no longer tied to the Communist ideology, nor is it corrupt and decadent as the West.
A corollary question arises: is this a new, less ideological, definition of Russianness? A mishmash of patriotism coupled to religious fervor (Russian Orthodoxy), the cult of the mother, sports, and the resurgence of provincial intelligentsia? Putin, after all, seems to be a genius in finding out what people want and then cleverly manipulating them. There is an affinity here with Donald Trump’s kind of populism, which may go a long way in explaining their mutual, if perplexing, sympathy.
The problem persists however: there is a colossal lack of trust between Putin and his people despite what he’d like us to believe about his popularity. It is a trumped up popularity due to the fact that he totally controls and manipulates the media, and just about everything else in Russia. Restoring that trust may prove harder than articulating a new national idea.
Many Russians no longer accept the idea of being subjects of the State; they wish to be citizens contributing to its overall prosperity. Here Putin and his oligarchs, who have greatly enriched themselves after the demise of the Soviet Union, leave much to be desired. Until that trust is restored and people feel that their aspirations, input and contributions are respected, beginning with credible and legitimate elections, authoritarianism will continue to increase in Russia at the expense of a truly democratic society.
Be that as it may, let’s return to the struggle, be it cultural or be it geo-political, between Russia and the West. It’s hard to imagine a period, since the end of the Cold War, when relations between Russia and the US have been so disastrous. What happened to the new era, the so called reset, which the end of the Cold War was supposed to usher in? Some political science experts today talk of a New Cold War, others mention an enormous misunderstanding in the grasping of a new Russia and the new ideology as above delineated, which of course they alone are able to understand and explain. It gets pretty confusing. Let’s see if we can unravel some of this mess.
The undeniable fact is that Russia, since the end of the Soviet Empire, has returned to the world stage with a vengeance, wielding an agenda that wants to appear visionary, for Russians at any rate, but looks progressively more Machiavellian. It seems rather to be eager to redress the real or perceived slights perpetrated by the West, NATO and the Atlantic alliance, and restore a semblance of its former global role. Some have imputed this attitude to the slightly paranoid narcissistic mind of a former KBG operative named Vladimir Putin.
But the question persists. Where did it all go wrong with the relationship and who is to blame? Is it a question of US overreaching or one of Russia’s nostalgia for Soviet imperial greatness buttressed by a new powerful ideology? Since the economy of Russia is smaller than that of Italy and California, is it gambling it all on nuclear weapons and intimidation, not to dissimilar to the North Korean misguided strategy? To answer that question may require a book the length of Dostoyevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov, but let’s try a few brief pointers.
Perhaps the initial fault does lie with the West, after all. It began when the West miserably failed to treat Russia as a nation that had had the courage to shake off Soviet Communism. Instead of welcoming it into a new community of nations, NATO treated it almost as a successor state to the USSR, inheriting the distrust of the West toward it.
Russia was later admitted into the G7 club making it the G8, but not as a full respected member but as an observer. This mistake was compounded when the West enthusiastically approved NATO’s expansion into Poland, the Czech Republic, Hungary, countries with their own nationalistic traditions of struggle against Moscow’s rule. Then it added the Baltic States who also had been satellites of the Soviet Union. Should we really wonder why Russia is so adamant about stopping the absorbing of Georgia and the Ukraine into NATO’s orbit and that Putin may be already eyeing those Baltic countries while pursuing a strategy of divide and conquer. That strategy is quite apparent even in the Western part of the EU where ultra-nationalistic movements are being funded and interference in their elections is being practiced via misinformation and cyber-warfare.
Of course there is another side to this coin, that of the West which prefers to speak of Russian “revanchism” as personified by Vladimir Putin who once described the collapse of the Soviet Union as “the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the 20th century.” Lately he has been showing an extremely assertive behavior in the Ukraine, Georgia, and Syria. And of course the experts debate which side is the correct side.
The fact remains however that presently there is no discernible politically super-charged ideological competition going on, one resembling the one that went on in the Cold War. And that is a good thing. There is however a competition for influence and here it must be admitted that economically Russia is still a power of a lesser order. The temptation remains for Russia to vaunt its nuclear weapons or its new found weapon: weaponized misinformation and cyber-warfare with which to interfere in other countries’ internal affairs, and about which the US Congress is presently investigating.
While it may be true that Pax Americana is over with and a firmer NATO alliance based on cooperation and trust may be needed, a new reset button with Russia is nowhere on the horizon. In any case, for the sake of global stability, can a new warmer sort of relationship with Russia be envisioned? Hard to tell at the present moment.
The experts will continue to explain away to demonstrate their expertise, the spies will continue to misinform and conduct cyber warfare, but in the final analysis it will be history which will render the final verdict on this thorny conundrum.
‘Russian Rebellion’: Local and Global Consequences
The military conflict in Ukraine today is at the nerve of relations between Russia and the West, and largely sets the tone for security policy in the Euro-Atlantic region. It also has many global implications. In the ideological sphere, it is increasingly presented as a struggle between the liberal world order and the “rebellion of the discontented”. It is Russia that today has assumed the role of the vanguard of such a rebellion, openly challenging its Western rivals.
The use of the concept of rebellion here is not accidental. The West is promoting a liberal world order based on clear ideological premises. These include the market economy; the globalisation of standards, markets and technologies; democracy as a no-alternative political form for the organisation of states; an open society and a diversity of cultures and ways of life; and human rights. In practice, the implementation of these principles varies from country to country and changes over time. However, the diversity of practice has little effect on the integrity of the ideology. Unlike the West, Russia does not offer an alternative ideological menu. So Russia differs from the Soviet Union, which at one time adopted another modernist ideology – socialism – and actively promoted it as a global alternative.
At the same time, both liberalism and socialism are Western doctrines. Both are based on the ideas of progress, rationality and emancipation. There are more similarities between them than you might think. Socialists offer a different view of private property, pointing to the excesses of the uncontrolled market. Already in the twentieth century, however, there was a convergence of liberal and socialist ideas in the form of a combination of state regulation and the market. With regards to their political ideation, democracy and the power of the people are no less important for socialism than for liberalism. Traces of the idea of globalisation could be found in the concept of international worker solidarity. Liberation from prejudices and the rationalisation of all spheres of life are expressed as clearly in socialism as in liberalism.
The problem with the Soviet Union was that the implementation of socialist ideas eventually turned into an imitation. The principles of democracy remained on paper, but in reality they were crushed by an authoritarian (and at certain stages – totalitarian) state. In the rationalisation of the economy and industrialisation, the USSR achieved amazing success, but later it ran into stagnation, unable to adapt its economy to rapidly changing world realities. The periphery of the economy, with its raw-material bias, was identified back in the Brezhnev era. Emancipation proved unprecedented, but was also ultimately hobbled by the increasingly rigid social structure of the Soviet state. At the end of the Cold War, the picture was completed by double standards and a cynical attitude towards the ideology of Soviet society itself and its elite.
Despite the collapse of the Soviet project, the policy of the USSR could hardly be called a rebellion. Throughout its history, the USSR still offered a systemic alternative. Relations with the bourgeois environment could be called an attempt at revolution, and then rivalry and competition, but not a revolt. Soviet policy had a positive agenda, offering a holistic picture of the world.
The current “Russian rebellion” is based on dissatisfaction with the established status quo of the liberal world order, or rather, its individual consequences for Russia.
There are reasons for such dissatisfaction. Scepticism about democracy was determined by the practical possibilities of foreign states to “hack” democratic institutions. Colour revolutions in the post-Soviet space only strengthened this attitude. The flip-side of democracy was the possibility of interference in democratic institutions from the outside in order to ‘correct’ the political course. The United States, not without reason, was considered a key “hacker” of national sovereignty through the manipulation of democratic institutions abroad. All the more ironic was the indignation of Washington itself after Russia allegedly also tried to “hack” American democracy.
Russia’s greatest annoyance was its secondary role in the unipolar world order, the disregard for its interests, and that system’s increasingly clear refusal to perceive it as an equal partner. Interestingly, economic factors were secondary for the “Russian rebellion”. In theory, Russia can be considered dissatisfied with its peripheral status in the global economy and its role as a raw materials appendage. In practice, Russia has become very deeply integrated into the international division of labour. However, compared to the stories about democracy, sovereignty and foreign policy, Russia’s dissatisfaction with its place in the world economy was articulated in a very weak way. Liberal emancipation can hardly be considered the main political problem for Moscow. In some aspects, the Russian narrative has distanced itself from the Western mainstream. This concerns such topics as multiculturalism and sexual minorities; although in the West itself, perceptions of these remains extremely heterogeneous. At the same time, in terms of lifestyle, Russia is still more of a European and Western country, so culture, like the economy, can hardly be considered a key source of the problem.
Given the concentration of Russian discontent in the political sphere, it is hardly surprising that it was the Ukrainian issue that became the trigger for the “Russian rebellion”. The Maidans and the change of power were seen by Moscow as a cynical hack into the country’s political system, as well as a threat of such a hack targeting Russia itself. In addition, at the doctrinal level, Ukraine was increasingly positioned as a fundamentally different project, drifting further and further towards Western values. From the point of view of foreign policy, it was with regards to the Ukrainian issue that Russian interests in the field of security were discriminated against in the most acute form. Economic issues here also acquired political overtones: Moscow could put pressure on Kyiv with gas prices and threats to diversify its transit, but it was clearly losing to the European Union and other Western players in the very model of economic integration. It is not surprising that all those contradictions that had accumulated after the Cold War made themselves known in Ukraine.
Realising that the game was being played according to fundamentally unfavourable and discriminatory rules from the Russian point of view, Moscow not only slammed the table with its fist and brushed the pieces off the board, it also decided, figuratively speaking, to hit its opponents hard on the head with this board. Rivalry “according to the rules” turned into a fight, the field of which is Ukraine. At the same time, on the part of the West itself, there is a degree of irritation, discontent and rejection of Russia, proportional to its own discontent or even surpassing it. The West is frustrated by the very fact of a decisive rebellion, its senselessness in terms of the balance of benefits and losses, and the ruthlessness of Russian pressure. Hence the obvious non-selectivity and emotionality of retaliatory strikes, a bizarre mixture of sanctions bombings, plans to confiscate Russian property, defeat the “oligarchs” (the most pro-Western wing of the Russian elite) and equally senseless bullying of the Russian cultural, sports and intellectual elite, and society as a whole. Only the threat of a direct military confrontation with Russia keeps them from using military force.
The West has every reason to fear the “Russian rebellion.” Worries about a liberal world order arose long before 2022 and even before 2014. Compared to Russia, China poses a far greater danger. If the “Russian rebellion” is successful, it will become clear that China’s ambitions will be even more difficult to contain. Moreover, unlike Russia, China can offer an alternative economic model, and its own view of democracy, as well as a different ethic of international relations.
The success of the “Russian rebellion” may become a prologue to much more systemic challenges. Therefore, the pacification of Russia for the West has become a task that clearly goes beyond the boundaries of the post-Soviet and even the Euro-Atlantic space.
Meanwhile, in the actions of Moscow, there have been signs of progress that are unpleasant for the West. Yes, the Western blockade will increase the lag and backwardness of the economy. Yes, military operations are costly. Yes, they can cause unpredictable social reactions and even present a challenge to political stability. None of these challenges, however, are capable of knocking Russia off its political course from now on. Moscow is slowly developing an offensive and seems to be determined to integrate the occupied Ukrainian territories into its political, information and economic space. Ukraine faces not only colossal economic and human losses, but also the threat of losing territory. Large-scale Western aid is having an effect, making it difficult for Russia to act. Apparently, however, it is not able to stop Russians: infusions of military equipment are simply ground up by military operations. The longer the conflict drags on, the more territory Ukraine could lose. This presents the West with the unpleasant realisation that it is necessary to reach at least a temporary agreement with Russia. It will be preceded by an attempt to reverse the military situation. However, if it fails, Ukraine will simply not be able to stop the further loss of its statehood.
In other words, the “Russian rebellion” has a chance to end in success in the sense that it may end in a fundamental reformatting of a large post-Soviet state that has recently been hostile to Russia. It will show the readiness and ability on the part of Russia to back up its claims with the most radical actions.
Will the success of the rebellion mean its victory? This will depend on two factors. The first is the international political implications. A military success in Ukraine could set off a chain of global consequences leading to the decline of the West. However, such a scenario is far from predetermined. The West’s margin of safety is high, despite its apparent vulnerability. The readiness of other non-Western players to give up the benefits of globalisation for the sake of abstract and vague political guidelines like a multipolar world is completely unobvious. It is likely that the West will have to endure the new status quo in Ukraine, but this does not mean the defeat of its model. Russia does not systematically challenge this model and does not have a complete picture of how to change it. In Moscow, perhaps, they believe that the model has become obsolete and expect it to collapse by itself, but this conclusion is far from obvious.
The second factor is the consequences for Russia itself. By avoiding promoting a global alternative to the liberal order, Russia will at least have to decide on a programme for its own development. So far, its contours are also built mainly around the denial of the West and its models in certain areas. Given that, the vast majority of other non-Western countries, while defending their sovereignty, are actively developing and cultivating Western practices that benefit them. These include the organisation of industry, developments in the field of science and education, and participation in the international division of labour. The rejection of such practices, just because they are conditionally “Western”, as well as the “cosplay” of Soviet practices created amid different historical conditions and left in the distant past, can only increase the difficulties that Russia is currently facing. The preservation and development of a market economy as well as an open and mobile society remain among the most important tasks.
From our partner RIAC
BRICS creating early warning system for epidemic risks
In their final declaration, leaders of the BRICS group (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) at the end of their 14th summit hosted by China, have emphasized their commitment the need for creating complex early warning system for epidemic risks within the group, and underscored that the member states must be better prepared for future healthcare emergencies.
The group also advocated “equitable distribution of vaccines” and called on international agencies and charities to purchase vaccines and boosters “from manufacturers in developing countries, including in Africa, to ensure that the manufacturing capabilities being developed are retained.”
Russia has been advocating for closer collaboration among the members, but China seems to be the fastest in taking actions concerning health related matters. Under the leadership of Russia, it first proposed cooperation on countering infectious diseases as a priority for BRICS. The final joint declaration of the 2015 BRICS summit in Ufa, Russia, has instructions by the leaders to work consistently on managing the risk of disease outbreaks.
“We are concerned about growing and diversifying global threats posed by communicable and non-communicable diseases. It has a negative impact on economic and social development, especially in developing and in the least developed countries,” said the 2015 BRICS declaration.
Among the group, China and India were ready to step up the sharing of information, and experience with BRICS countries and conduct joint research and development of drugs and vaccines based on respecting each other’s sovereignty and national conditions.
During the rotating chairmanship of South Africa, it firmly re-proposed the creating of full-scale coordinating research and development center and planned to be located in Johannesburg, South Africa.
Nevertheless, there has not been any practical achievements in that direction. Then Covid-19 began in December 2019 and was declared pandemic the following year by the World Health Organization (WHO). As China took the helm of BRICS, effective from January 2022, experts and research analysts have since showed deep interests and were further discussing possibilities of multilateral cooperation, existing challenges and identifying diverse priorities, the strength and weaknesses of BRICS.
With noticeable efforts, BRICS has consistently been pushing for diverse health initiatives, most especially vaccines, to halt the coronavirus pandemic that has shattered the global economy. There are Chinese and Russian vaccines, both reported as effective and safe, and currently getting ready to ramp up large-scale production.
March 22 marked the launch the BRICS Vaccine Research and Development Centre, involving the heads of relevant agencies from the five countries. The initiative to establish the BRICS Vaccine R&D Center was incorporated in the final declaration of the BRICS summit in Johannesburg, South Africa (July 26-27, 2018).
The main objective is to share best practices and strengthen practical cooperation in research, development, production and distribution of vaccines to ensure their greater availability. The new format is designed to develop mechanisms for the prevention, diagnosis and prompt response to new viruses, as well as to ensure timely and widespread Covid-19 vaccination.
The launch of the BRICS Vaccine R&D Center is considered as a major achievement of the five-sided cooperation, in strengthening cooperation in the field of healthcare in particular through the implementation of the Russian initiative to establish the BRICS Integrated Early Warning System for preventing mass infectious disease risks, in the Chinese chairmanship of the BRICS.
China’s Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Wang Wenbin explained, during his regular media briefing on March 23, that the BRICS Vaccine R&D Center and workshop on vaccine cooperation would be a network of internet-based virtual centers, and the establishment of physical centers would only begin later after comprehensive feasibility assessment.
As the BRICS Chair this year, China hosted the 14th BRICS Summit in June under the theme of “Foster High-quality BRICS Partnership, Usher in a New Era for Global Development” and public health and vaccine cooperation are among the key areas of BRICS cooperation this year. At present, the pandemic is still dragging on across the world.
The establishment of the BRICS Vaccine R&D Center demonstrates the determination of BRICS countries to focus on vaccine cooperation, deepen public health cooperation and build a BRICS line of defense against Covid-19.
“We hope that the vaccine R&D center will pool the strengths of BRICS countries, further promote scientific and technological cooperation among BRICS countries, enhance the five countries’ capability of preventing and controlling infectious diseases contribute to the global fight against Covid-19 and make new contributions to international public health cooperation,” Wang Wenbin explained during the media briefing.
The BRICS countries are making efforts to contribute to an enhanced international cooperation to support the efforts of countries to achieve the health goals, including the implementation of universal and equitable access to health services, and ensure affordable, good-quality service delivery while taking into account different national circumstances, policies, priorities and capabilities.
The BRICS member countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) collectively represent about 26% of the world’s geographic area and are home to 3.6 billion people, about 40% of the world’s population and a combined nominal Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of US$16.6 trillion.
Biden forces Russia to retake all of Ukraine, and maybe even Lithuania
The Soviet Union had included what now are Armenia, Azerbaijan, Byelarus, Estonia, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Latvia, Lithuania, Moldova, Russia, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Ukraine, and Uzbekistan.
There is no indication that Russia’s President Vladimir Putin had intended on February 24th anything more than to add to Russia the extremely pro-Russian former Donbass region of Ukraine. Russian troops were, however, sent also to surround Ukraine’s capital Kiev only in order to prevent Ukrainian troops there going south and joining Ukraine’s troops who already for eight years had been and still were in Donbass, so that Ukraine could then reinforce its Donbass troops against Russia’s invasion. Once Russia determined that its forces and the (highly pro-Russian) local Donbass Government forces in Donbass were clearly on the path toward victory there, the Russian troops surrounding Kiev became withdrawn southward toward Donbass. The clearer that it has since become that Russia would succeed in its Donbass operation, the more that America and its allies supplied weapons to Ukraine, and the less willing, to negotiate with Russia, this made Ukraine’s Government. That encouragement to Ukraine’s Government, from the U.S. and its allies, caused Ukraine’s Government to commit itself to victory at any cost against Russia (even promising to invade Crimea to retake it). The negotiations between Russia and Ukraine therefore collapsed.
Biden seems to have made some sort of deal with Ukraine’s President Zelensky that if Ukraine would do that (resist Russia all the way), then America and its allies would commit to Ukraine all the way up to World War III, but not by sending troops, only weapons and economic aid, which total so far this year the U.S. has been authorized in an amount of $54 billion. America’s allies have donated far less. Basically, the deal is between Biden and Zelensky, to fight Russia all the way to a “victory” by Ukraine (actually by America) against Russia.
However, now that Ukraine is losing its war, Biden and his allies are allowing the war to expand closer and closer to WW III. Ukraine has several times bombed nearby cities in Russia, though constantly promising that it won’t. And now, Lithuania, which is part of America’s alliance, has closed Russia’s rail traffic through Lithuania into Russia’s province of Kaliningrad. Analogous would be if an anti-U.S. Canada were to block U,.S. rail traffic between the lower 48 states and the American state of Alaska. That sort of thing violates international law and is the international-law equivalent of a declaration of war, which Lithuania has now done (though not yet formally declared), with the approval of the U.S. and of America’s other allies, all of which are thereby daring Russia to enforce its own international-law rights by Russia’s bombing any Lithuanian-or-allied forces that would attempt to enforce the U.S.-and-allied blockade against Kaliningrad.
An excellent discussion of the ramifications of this situation can be found here.
where the reasons why this pushes Russia, to retake all of Ukraine, plus to retake Lithuania, are well explained. Whether Putin will decide to do that, however, is not yet known. What is known is that if Russia is forced to either go to war against the U.S. and its allies, or else to continue to allow this international-law violation by Lithuania being backed-up by America, against Russia, then either Putin will back down and Biden will win, or else Biden will back down and Putin will win, or else we all will experience WW III no longer in just its proxy-war (Ukrainian battlefield) stage (such as has been the case), nor in any other merely traditional-war stage, but finally as an all-out nuclear exchange, which will be completed within less than an hour and doom everyone.
Biden has already decided to bring on a global recession or even depression in order to defeat Russia, but whether he will go all the way to WW III in order to force Russia to become just another ‘U.S. ally’ (but it would be the biggest one of all, since Russia is by far the world’’s biggest country, even without its former partners in the Soviet Union), isn’t yet known.
As Russia’s Government has said on many occasions, what is at stake for Russia in this matter is “existential,” namely whether or not Russia will continue to exist as a free nation, since it will not accept becoming yet another U.S. colony. However, for America, as America’s own Government has said on many occasions, what is at stake is continuation of U.S. hegemony over the world, or else there coming to be no hegemon. That fixed objective of the U.S. Government has been stated in many ways, but perhaps the clearest of all being by President Barack Obama on 28 May 2014, when addressing America’s future generals:
The United States is and remains the one indispensable nation. That has been true for the century passed and it will be true for the century to come. … Russia’s aggression toward former Soviet states unnerves capitals in Europe, while China’s economic rise and military reach worries its neighbors. From Brazil to India, rising middle classes compete with us, and governments seek a greater say in global forums. … It will be your generation’s task to respond to this new world.
To be a “hegemon” is to be the only nation that is indispensable — all others are, according to that view, dispensable. Russia’s Government is now being tested to determine whether it will accept being dispensable, or else continue as it has been at least since 1991, as a free country, no mere colony of some foreign government.
In order for the U.S. to win this conflict, the entire world will have to accept rule by America’s Government (i.e., being a U.S. ‘ally’). In order for Russia to win this conflict, the U.S. Government would have to change what has been its overriding objective ever since, actually, 25 July 1945: hegemony.
NOTE: Officially, the term “hegemony” is merely a synonym for “domination.” The reason dictionaries lie about it is: a term that means domination over all other countries conveys a Hitlerian image, and the U.S. Government wants to avoid being viewed as Hitlerian. The fact is that no country can be a hegemon unless it dominates over all other countries — leads an all-inclusive global empire (even if never officially declared to be an “empire” at all). The correct usage of the term “hegemon” therefore is exclusive (“the hegemon”), not not merely one of several (“a hegemon”). In any case, Obama made the point unambiguously clear by asserting that “The United States is … the one indispensable country.” Hitler felt the same way about Germany. This is the challenge that Russia faces. America ideologically switched sides right after WW II. But Russia remains (and passionately) anti-nazi. So, if Russia will have to retake all of Ukraine, and also Lithuania, in order to continue its own independence, it will do that, because Russia has remained anti-nazi. How Biden would respond to that is unknown.
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