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Trump and Putin to meet in Germany

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US President Donald Trump is set to meet with his Russian counterpart President Vladimir Putin at next week’s G20 summit in Hamburg, Germany amid investigations into Russian interference in the 2016 election and possible collusion between Trump’s campaign and the country’s officials.

Both the Kremlin and the White House announced that the pair will meet on the sidelines of the July 7-8 summit of G20 nations in Hamburg. However, the US National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster told reporters that no agenda had yet been set for the meeting, which is fraught with difficulties for Trump.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov also told reporters that Putin and Donald Trump will meet on the sidelines of the Group of Twenty summit in Hamburg next week, but no separate meeting is planned, “They will meet in any case there, on the sidelines of this summit, but no separate meeting is planned at the moment,” Peskov said.  Peskov said that as far as a possible meeting was concerned, “the protocol side of it is secondary.” He let on little about Moscow’s awareness of Washington’s ambivalence toward the scale of the meeting but said that “in any case there will be a chance to meet.”

President Trump has frequently called for better ties with Russia but lawmakers in his own Republican Party are urging him to be wary of Moscow.  “As the president has made clear, he’d like the United States and the entire West to develop a more constructive relationship with Russia but he has also made clear that we will do what is necessary to confront Russia’s destabilizing behavior,” McMaster said, obviously pointing to Ukraine and Syria.

The two governments had not yet ironed out further details about a meeting. When asked whether the president would bring up Russia’s interference in the election with Putin at their meeting, McMaster said there is “no specific agenda” yet, and that Trump will address what he chooses.

Due to ongoing allegations by the US intelligence community of Russian interference in the US election and a scandal about possible collusion within Trump’s team, not everyone in the White House thinks such a meeting is prudent. State Department and National Security Council officials have asked Trump to consider a more low-profile introduction to the Russian president and perhaps avoid an extended conversation altogether. Among the recommendations are a brief and informal “pull-aside” on the summit’s sidelines, and a meeting of US and Russian delegations for “strategic stability talks”—a format which may or may not involve heads of state.

The two governments had not yet ironed out further details about a meeting. When asked whether the president would bring up Russia’s interference in the election with Putin at their meeting, McMaster said there is “no specific agenda” yet, and that Trump will address what he chooses.

Some US officials argue the meeting should be a brief and informal “pull-aside” at the two-day summit, which starts next Friday in Hamburg, in view of the fact that Trump is under multi-pronged investigations into his campaign’s relationship with Moscow. The skeptics also argue there has been no let-up in Russia’s military intervention in Ukraine, which was the trigger for the bulk of the sanctions.

Excitement

President Donald Trump is said to be excited to meet Russia’s Vladimir Putin, though US government officials are trying to curb Trump’s enthusiasm about meeting Vladimir Putin at the upcoming G20 summit in Germany.

Trump has not met his “favorite” Russian strongman Putin since being elected last year, despite his claim that he could meet the Russian leader even before being inaugurated. Now he is apparently keen to hold a full bilateral meeting at the time of the summit on July 7-8, two White House officials, one current and one former, told AP. Such a meeting would involve agreeing on a designated space for it, allowing media access and other diplomatic protocols involved in meetings between two heads of state. However, there is no official confirmation on Moscow’s or Washington’s side that a meeting in any form has been agreed upon, but Putin and Trump will both attend the summit.

Trump has been positive about his policy for Russia. Like Obama, Trump has said he would stabilize and reinvigorate the bilateral ties with the Kremlin. When he took the job under Trump, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson backed moves to improve relations with Moscow and arranged for Lavrov to meet Trump in the Oval Office. But the former oil executive felt “burned” by that incident, of which the Russian government published photographs without the US government’s permission, and where Trump disclosed classified information about counter-terrorist operations. Tillerson has since become more adamant in his opposition to the relaxation of sanctions without substantial changes to Russian behavior.

Tensions

US-Russia relations have been dotted with tensions since the days of the so-called Cold War- in fact even before that.  Existence of NATO as a global terror police force to attack any weak nation has been resented by Moscow which ass Washington o do away with the Cold War symbols. 

Russia and the USA are at odds over many issues, namely on Ukraine, NATO expansion and the civil war in Syria where Moscow supports President Bashar al-Assad. The USA backs rebel groups trying to overthrow Assad, and Washington angered Russia by launching missile strikes against a Syrian government air base in April in response to what the USA says was a chemical weapons attack that killed dozens of civilians.

President Putin, who has served as both Russian president and prime minister, has outlasted the previous two US presidents, George W. Bush and Barack Obama. Officials from those governments say American officials initially overestimated their potential areas of cooperation with the Russian leader. Then, through a combination of overconfidence, inattention and occasional clumsiness, Washington contributed to a deep spiral in relations with Moscow, they say. Those relations reached a post-Cold War low under Trump’s predecessor, Obama. In the last days of his presidency, Obama ordered the expulsion of 35 Russian suspected spies and imposed sanctions on two Russian intelligence agencies over their involvement in hacking US political groups in the 2016 election.

US officals and intelligence say Russia interfered with US presidency poll, engineering a vote in favor of Trump. Russia denies all US allegations and Trump says his team did not collude with Moscow. Several congressional committees as well as the FBI are investigating Russia’s role in the election and any alleged collusion by Trump’s campaign.  Further, allegations that Russia interfered in the US presidential election last year and colluded with the Republican’s campaign have overshadowed the businessman’s unexpected victory and dogged his first five months in office. Russia has vociferously denied involved in the US election and a visibly irate Putin accused US journalists of “hysteria” on the subject earlier this month.

In November 2013, Trump said on MSNBC that he did have “a relationship” with Putin, whom he claimed sent him “a present” when he attended the Miss Universe pageant in 2013, that he “got to know Putin very well” when they both appeared — in separate segments — on an episode of “60 Minutes” and that they had communicated “directly and indirectly.”  Trump later walked back the idea of a relationship with Putin in a 2016 interview with ABC News’: “I have no relationship to — with him,” said Trump, later continuing, “He said something nice about me. This has been going on. We did 60 Minutes together. By the way, not together-together, meaning he was probably shot in Moscow… and I was shot in New York.” “I have never spoken to him on the phone,” added Trump. The president raised eyebrows for heaping praise on Putin during the campaign, but denied having a “relationship” with the Russian leader.

Since Trump’s inauguration, he and Putin have shared three phone calls. There have never been any real a rapport between the two.

Sanctions as economic terrorism

Russia continues to face sanctions from USA and its western allies. USA keeps extending the sanctions just hoping to weaken Russian economy. However, Russian economy is strong and is able to withstand all impacts of western sanctions.

A proposed new package of sanctions on Russia in the US Congress might complicate Trump’s desire for warmer relations with Moscow. The US Senate reached an agreement to resolve a technical issue stalling the sanctions, although the measure’s fate in the House of Representatives is uncertain. Vice President Mike Pence will travel to Estonia, Georgia and Montenegro in July and August in an attempt to reassure US allies that are neighbors of Russia

Apparently, Trump made significant efforts to lift sanctions on Russia in his first weeks in office but was thwarted by resistance from allies as well as from former Obama officials and state department staffers.

When Theresa May visited the White House a week after Trump’s inauguration, one of her priorities was to dissuade the new president from relaxing sanctions imposed on Russia for its 2014 annexation of Crimea and covert military intervention in eastern Ukraine. “The Brits did push for that, but it’s hard to say how much difference their intervention made,” said a former official, who was working at the state department at the time.  Two outgoing state officials, Daniel Fried and Tom Malinowski, lobbied Congress to pass legislation to codify the sanctions and lock them in place.

On 14 June the US Senate passed a bill, with a 98-2 vote, that would strengthen sanctions on Russia. The bill has since been stalled in the House over technicalities amid reports that Trump’s allies are seeking to water it down. “If the bill is passed it would mean that in one important respect, Russian active measures will have failed,” Malinowski, Obama’s assistant secretary of state for human rights, said. He also pointed to the Treasury’s move last week to broaden existing restrictions on Russia as an indication “the sanctions machinery is working normally and on schedule”

The US defense department for Russia, Ukraine and Eurasia, said the closure of the Russian compounds and the expulsion of suspected spies were intended to be only the first step in the punitive measures against Moscow for its election meddling. If President Trump starts to undo any of those measures, including giving back the facilities in Maryland and New York then the Russian government will believe … they got away with what they did to US strategists.

One possible gesture under consideration is the restoration of access to two diplomatic compounds, in Maryland and New York, from which Russian officials were ejected by the Obama government in December as part of a package of punitive measures for Russian hacking of the 2016 elections. Obama said the compounds were “used by Russian personnel for intelligence-related purposes”. He also expelled 35 Russian officials he described as “intelligence operatives”.

The Trump government was contemplating handing back the compounds in early May, initially in exchange for the Russian government lifting a freeze on construction of a new US consulate in St Petersburg, according to the Washington Post. That link was reportedly dropped a few days later when the secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, met his Russian counterpart, Sergey Lavrov, in Washington on 10 May.

So far, however, no agreements have been reached on the fate of the compounds, which Russian diplomats have made a priority in their discussions with the government. The NSC spokesman, Michael Anton, said the meeting between the two leaders “is not set in any format yet”, but he did not respond to a question about the request to NSC staff to propose potential bargaining chips for the meeting. “They have been asked for deliverables, but there is resistance to offering anything up without anything back in return,” said one former official familiar with the debate inside the White House.

Syria

Syria is now the battle field for the former Cold war foes to showcase their individual military capability.

It is no secret that USA and Russia have been fighting to control the world but the former has maintained upper hand.  In doing so, Moscow pursues a confrontational collaborative approach with USA in regional crises. In recent times, Syria vividly showcases this essentially cooperative policy of Russia and both seem to advance their global and regional interests. 

President Donald Trump’s openness to Putin has been the foreign policy thing that most separated him from the rest of Republicans. But Russia and the USA are on opposite sides of so many issues that the White House would certainly have to come to terms with it. The vocal dispute between Russia and the US over Syria complicates what has

It’s a relationship both Putin and Trump found valuable during the presidential campaign, when both wanted to see Clinton defeated.

It was seeing pictures of Syrian children devastated by what officials suspect is sarin gas that led Trump, as President, to do an unabashed about-face on Syria. He had opposed military action there when chemical weapons were used during the Obama administration and criticized former President Barack Obama for making that a “red line.” Just before the air strikes, Trump said the pictures he saw crossed much more than a red line for him. “When you kill innocent children, innocent babies — babies, little babies — with a chemical gas that is so lethal — people were shocked to hear what gas it was — that crosses many, many lines, beyond a red line. Many, many lines.”

Putin was quick to condemn Trump’s missile strike response, calling it “aggression against a sovereign state in violation of the norms of international law.”

The USA and Russia are squaring off on the issue in the UN Security Council, where Russia, which has veto power, has stood in the way of international action against Syria.

Syria dispute is virtually guaranteed to break up the Trump-Putin bromance. The vocal dispute between Russia and the US over Syria complicates what has been a feature event; US political drama for months has been about Russian meddling in US elections and the blowback from Trump. The ties between Trump staffers to Russia, was aided by Trump’s willingness to start fresh with Russian President Vladimir Putin, whom he defended in the US media.

On April 17 Vladimir Putin has said Russia’s relationship with the US has badly deteriorated since Donald Trump became president. The Russian leader – who had a frosty relationship with Obama – said the relationship has “degraded” When asked about relations since Trump became president, Putin said: “One could say that the level of trust on a working level, especially on the military level, has not improved, but rather has deteriorated.”  When asked about relations since Trump became president, Putin said: “One could say that the level of trust on a working level, especially on the military level, has not improved, but rather has deteriorated.”

Putin claimed Damascus had given up its chemical weapons stocks and offered two main explanations for the horrific incident. One was that Syrian government air strikes had hit rebel chemical weapons stocks, releasing poisonous gas, or that the incident was a set-up designed to discredit the Syrian government.

 Putin sensationally claimed the US is preparing airstrikes on the Syrian capital – and will pin the blame on Bashar-al Assad’s forces. The Russian leader made the astonishing claim – that the US is planning to FAKE chemicals weapons attacks – during a joint press conference with the Italian President Sergio Mattarella. Putin insisted Russia would tolerate Western criticism of its role in Syria but hoped that attitudes would eventually soften. His claims Russia has information strikes are being planned by the USA on the southern Damascus region – the aim of which is to blame the resulting devastation on the subsequently discredited Syrian government – will not go down well in the White House. When asked whether he expected more US missile strikes on Syria, Putin said: “We have information that a similar provocation is being prepared… in other parts of Syria including in the southern Damascus suburbs where they are planning to again plant some substance and accuse the Syrian authorities of using (chemical weapons).”

Trump raised Russian hackles when the White House said it appeared the Syrian military was preparing to conduct a chemical weapons attack and warned that Assad and his forces would “pay a heavy price” if it did so. Meanwhile, the White House warned Syrian President Bashar al Assad that he and his military would “pay a heavy price” if it conducted a chemical weapons attack and said the USA had reason to believe such preparations were underway. The Syrian government said a US warning to Damascus not to carry out a new chemical weapons strike were baseless and a ploy to justify a new attack on the country.   State television quoted a foreign ministry source as saying Washington’s allegations about an intended attack were not only misleading but also “devoid of any truth and not based on any facts.”

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said that Russia said will respond with dignity and proportionately if the USA takes pre-emptive measures against Syrian government forces to stop what Washington says could be a planned chemical attack. Lavrov added that it would “probably not be right” if Putin and Trump did not talk at the G20 summit of world economic powers. Speaking at a news conference with his German counterpart, Lavrov said he hoped that the USA was not preparing to use its intelligence assessments about the Syrian government’s intentions as a pretext to mount a “provocation” in Syria.

The Russian foreign ministry said “retaliatory measures” were being prepared for closure of the compounds, but did not describe the measures. The Russian Kommersant newspaper has reported that the Kremlin could seize US diplomatic property in Russia or impose restrictions on an Anglo-American school there.

Observation

It is becoming clear now that the US President Donald Trump will meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin next week at the G20 summit in Germany that brings two world leaders whose political fortunes have become intertwined face-to-face for the first time.

As the G20 summit in Germany is fast approaching, President Trump is reportedly pressing for a meeting with President Putin. But the President’s advisers are not big into the idea of a highly publicized meeting between the two leaders. Some are suggesting instead a pull-aside” meeting on the sidelines of the summit to avoid a high-profile meeting, involving press and other diplomatic formalities.

Donald Trump has told White House aides to come up with possible concessions to offer as bargaining chips in his planned meeting next week with Vladimir Putin, according to two former officials familiar with the preparations. National Security Council staff has been tasked with proposing “deliverables” for the first Trump-Putin encounter, including the return of two diplomatic compounds Russians were ordered to vacate by the Obama administration in response to Moscow’s interference in the 2016 election, the former officials said. It is not clear what Putin would be asked to give in return.

The Kremlin said that Russia was ready to attend a full-scale meeting — the first since Trump has taken office — in addition to any interactions the pair would have at the summit. The meeting comes amid heightened tensions between the USA and Russia over the situations in Ukraine and Syria, and with Trump casting new scrutiny on his predecessor, President Barack Obama, for not doing enough to counter Russian election meddling.

The US intelligence, according to Moscow, wants to maintain a rift in the relationship between Trump and Putin. US intelligence agencies say Russia hacked and leaked emails of Democratic Party political groups to help Trump win the 2016 US presidential election against Democrat Hillary Clinton.

With US Congress and most of his government set against concessions to Russia, Trump has been hemmed in so far in his overtures to Moscow. His encounter with Putin next week, however, will offer him the opportunity to remake policy on the spot. “The big wild card in all this is the person holding the position of president of the United States,” Malinowski said. “We don’t know what he will say when he meets the master-manipulator from the Kremlin.” Asked about a Trump-Putin meeting in Hamburg, Lavrov told journalists: “We assume that contact will take place, as the two presidents will at the same time be in one town, in one building, in one room.”

There is strong resistance in the state department to one-sided concessions aimed simply at improving the tone of US-Russian relations. There is also opposition within the government to Trump’s preference for a formal bilateral meeting with Putin at the G20 summit in Germany.

All eyes are now on the two top world leaders in neat suits looking for any possible breakthroughs in bilateral ties between the two superpowers that would in turn help reduce global and regional tensions. 

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The other side of the Olympics

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The world Olympic movement has always been based on the principles of equal and impartial attitude towards athletes – representatives of all states of the world. The Olympic Games were designed to stop wars and political strife, to unite representatives of all countries of the International Olympic Committee. One of the main Olympic principles was peacekeeping – the opportunity for the strongest athletes to meet under national flags for a peaceful competition. We seem to be losing all this today. Since the days of Nazi Germany, the Olympic Games have become a weapon of propaganda, and during the Cold War, political squabbles from terrorist attacks, protests and boycotts unfolded around them. However, now, when the International Olympic Committee (IOC) forced the Russian team to abandon the national flag and anthem, the entire political background of the current Olympic Games has become especially visible.

In ancient Greece, military operations were stopped for the period of the Olympic Games. Peaceful competitions, the cult of sports, the cult of beauty and the spirit of ancient competitions had priority. As the founder of modern Olympics, Baron de Coubertin, wanted to revive all this! But the proud fathers of Athens or Baron de Coubertin could hardly have imagined that in modern days noble sports would turn into an instrument of a political game. Earlier, there were boycotts because of the Cold War, provocations in the stands, racism… Now we have strange doping scandals. As a result, the Tokyo Olympics, at the suggestion of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), have become institutions that also operate on the basis of political interests.

As a reminder, since 2014, the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) has been investigating the massive use of doping by Russian athletes. They were stripped of their medals and removed from the competition. In Russia itself, where they love sports and root for their athletes, this was perceived as a planned attack on Russian sports. Moreover, for example, Russian biathlon fans are convinced that half of European athletes in this discipline use anti-asthma drugs that expand the lungs “for medical reasons”.

However, that the suspension of Russian athletes is not based on scientific facts is confirmed by the statement of the most decorated Winter Olympian of all time, Ole Einar Bjorndalen.

Bjorndalen, 47, an eight-time Olympic biathlon champion, stated in 2017,that  more compelling evidence than scratch marks supposedly found on sample bottles of some Russian athletes if they are to be implicated in the ongoing doping scandal.

“I hope that we will be able to see some evidence for what they [Russian athletes] are being punished, and that it it’s not that there are some marks on the bottles, because then I will be terribly afraid of giving samples,” Bjorndalen, said, as cited by the Norwegian News Agency (NTB).

The very idea that one can be found guilty of doping violations without being tested positive has stoked fears among the athletes as they now worry they can be punished virtually under any pretext, Bjorndalen said.

“We skiers are beginning to feel uncertain when we are being tested that there are some scratches on sample bottles for which they can punish us,” he said.

Anyone who violates the doping regulations should be punished, and severely, so that the strong message is sent, that fair play is the basis of the Olympic Games. But to punish the whole country, and which is superpower in sport(Russia is always among the few countries with the most medals won), on the basis of unreliable evidence, is absolutely unacceptable.

Therefore, in response to a well-thought-out decision of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) in the days of the Olympics rallies, the Russians launched the not quite tolerant hashtag #wewillROCyou (according to the permitted name of the Russian team – Russian Olympic Committee). The anger of ordinary Russian citizens is reasonable if we keep in mind that never in history has any country been deprived of its flag and anthem.  

So we have to ask ourselves, all of us who love sports but also basic human rights, is it right to try to humiliate a country of 147 million inhabitants? Especially having in mind how much that country has provided to the world in the field of sports, culture, science. The answer is self-imposed – the injustice towards Russian athletes and Russia must be corrected.

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Russian Foreign Ministry sees elements of show in “Navalny poisoning”

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Russian Foreign Ministry’s press secretary Maria Zakharova has yet again dwelled with her usual sarcasm on last year’s reports about “Russia’s top opposition leader” and “the deadly Novichok”. Zakharova made the comments with her hallmark sense of humour over her Telegram channel following newly released reports on the results of an inquiry into the “poisoning of Navalny”, which appeared in the course of the 97th session of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons in July.

On August 20 last year, Russia’s public activist and campaigner Alexei Navalny had to be taken off his flight at Omsk and was delivered to hospital in a grave condition. Well before the final diagnosis he was flown to a Berlin hospital and there he was diagnosed with Novichok poisoning. Later on, he revealed the results of his own investigation which established the involvement in the poisoning of a group of FSB agents. The story has become the butt of a joke in Russia. Russians want to know why Novichok has not killed anyone so far and why Russian special services are unable to carry out a simple elimination operation.

Giving rise to more jokes was the publication of “an inquiry into the poisoning of Alexei Navalny” which the Russian side obtained from a report on the activities of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons in implementation of its core document – the 2020-2021 Convention. Part 1.41 of the report, which was published after the session, says that “on August 20, 2020, at the request of Germany, the Secretariat dispatched a group of experts who were to render technical assistance in connection with reports about the poisoning of the Russian activist”. But August 20 was the very day of the poisoning of Alexei Navalny, who suddenly felt ill on board of the plane and who told the passengers about the poisoning himself. At about 6 a.m. (4.00 CET) Moscow time the plane with Navalny on board made an emergency landing at Omsk. The news got into the media by midday.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron were in meeting at the time. At 18.30 CET they give a press conference signaling the need to conduct an inquiry. On the same day the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons received a request from Germany and reacted. However, for an international organization that adheres to specific procedures a reaction that quick is impossible for technical reasons. Unless all this has been planned before, which is what Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova points out.

Russian representatives prepared for the 97th session of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons far better than the Germans. That’s why when asked why the draft report contains the date August 20 the German side first said that it was a misprint and then “recalled” that on that day chancellor Merkel turned to the Organization with a request. In any case, the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons must secure a preliminary approval from its Secretariat before it can send any experts for conducting an inquiry. Interestingly, the Organization could not explain the confusion over the dates and procedures.  

This situation enabled the Russian Foreign Ministry to ‘’strike a new blow’’, accusing the United States, Britain and a number of European countries of regularly breaching the Chemical Weapons Convention. Simultaneously, many Russian media reminded their subscribers that Navalny was hospitalized after two days of noisy parties and visits to the sauna. The lifestyle of “Russia’s top opposition campaigner” causes a lot of criticism, as the anti-corruption activist lives a lavish life, which is unaffordable to most Russians and alienates potential supporters.

Zakharova’s harsh and sarcastic statements, made via her Telegram channel and picked up by the Russian media, de facto demonstrate that Moscow views the entire “poisoning” story as poorly fabricated and will not accept whatever results the West’s inquiry may present. We can see that the “Navalny case” does have a lot of flaws and that the Kremlin had clearly pointed them out. Even the ardent opponents to the Russian government refrain from mentioning “poisoning”, saying that “Alexei” went over the line and that the  story about “the Novichok-soaked underpants” sounds implausible.

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Russia and the West: Are Values the Problem?

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The National Security Strategy of the Russian Federation approved by the President of Russia will go down in history as a document that sharpened the issue of the country’s traditional spiritual and moral values. Values were also featured in in its predecessor, Strategy 2015. However, Strategy 2021 has new accents. The source of the threat is the “Westernisation” of culture. Russian values, according to the document, are being attacked by the United States and its allies, transnational corporations, as well as foreign non-profit, non-governmental, religious, extremist and terrorist organisations. If earlier terrorism and extremism, in one way or another, were separated from the “Western” theme, now they are considered threats of the same order. The transition of confrontation with the West to the realm of values is a new stage in Russian strategic thinking. Earlier such a confrontation was perceived more in terms of material categories (defence, economics), but now it has clearly shifted to an ideological level. Why did this transition take place? What problems will Russia face in the new paradigm, and what are the strengths and weaknesses of this approach?

Let’s start with the premises. Russian foreign policy has been deviating from the value dimension for quite a long time. A certain surge occurred in the early 1990s with the idea that Russia’s values were converging with those of the West. But by the second half of the 1990s, there was a clear departure from liberal idealism towards pragmatic realism. In the early 2000s, realism finally took root in Russian doctrines. We viewed security and foreign policy in terms of specific material threats. On this basis, interaction with external forces, including the West, was built. The realism of Russian thinking was determined, on the one hand, by fatigue from the excessive ideologisation of Soviet foreign policy, and, on the other hand, by quick disappointment in political rapprochement with the West and the understanding that declarations of common values do not necessarily mean avoiding competition.

Western foreign policy, on the other hand, retained its ideological burden. Russia quickly returned to the ranks of the “significant others”. That is, it again became a reference point against which the Western identity was built. New residents of the “Western House” from the countries of Central and Eastern Europe played a role here. For them, the formation of a new identity was a particularly important task, and opposing the former “empire” was a convenient political technology. This process began long before the events in Crimea in 2014. Voices about Russian authoritarianism, expansionism, etc. began to be heard back in the early 2000s, paradoxically adjacent to statements about the inevitable extinction of the once-mighty power. Identity games have also become a political technology in the post-Soviet space. The notorious “colour revolutions” unfolded, among other things, on the basis of the opposition’s concept of “modern West vs. backward Russia”.

In Russia itself, positioning the West as a “significant other” was initially the lot of the opposition. In the 1990s, both the left and the right built their election campaigns on it. The former exploited nostalgia for Soviet times, the latter exploited the demand for “geopolitical” revenge. In the 2000s, such a narrative partly moved to the level of state policy, although it did not reach the level of open opposition between value models. The process accelerated after 2014, but even then, the value component of the Russian approach to the West was noticeably less significant in comparison with the narratives of individual Western countries and organisations. In 2021, the value load of Russian strategic thinking approached the Western one. What used to sound veiled and had remained between the lines is now called by its proper names. At the same time, the core values proposed by the new Strategy will face several conceptual problems.

The first problem is related to the fact that the values that are proclaimed in the Strategy: Russian spiritual and moral guidelines as opposed to “Westernisation”, are either of Western origin, or, at least, are not alien to the West. Among them, the document notes life, dignity, human rights and freedoms, patriotism, citizenship, service to the Fatherland, high moral ideals, a strong family, creative work, the priority of the spiritual over the material, humanism, mercy, collectivism, mutual assistance and mutual respect, historical memory and the continuity of generations.

Rights and freedoms are the values of the Enlightenment, the cradle of which is Western Europe. The same goes for patriotism and citizenship. The English Revolution, the French Revolution, and then a series of other revolutions in Europe opened the way for them. The revolutions in Russia itself also took place under the same slogans, although the Russian imperial government managed to organically integrate patriotism into its system of values. Life and dignity are rather universal values and are certainly shared by many in North America and Europe. In the West, it is difficult to find a society that would abandon the high moral ideals and values of the family, in spite of several waves of “sexual revolution” and emancipation. Creative labour is at the core of Western economic ethics. Here is the combination of the spiritual and the material. To regard the capitalist West as an adherent of the primacy of the material would be an exaggeration. Suffice it to recall the Protestant ethics and the “spirit of capitalism”, or the high religiosity in a number of societies. Inglehart’s large-scale studies have shown that the choice between conditionally spiritual and conditionally material priorities changes cyclically. That is, one generation can be driven by materialists, the next idealists, and the next materialists once again.

Humanism is a Western concept. By and large, it underlies liberal political theory with its assumption of the creative nature of man and human life as the highest value. Mercy, mutual assistance and mutual respect are universal values. The same goes for justice. Moreover, it is in Western political thought that the theory of justice has been the subject of reflection for centuries and even millennia — from Plato’s just state to John Rawls’s theory of justice. Finally, collectivism is also present in the Western value matrix. Here are both ideas of the common good and theories of the political community. Within the West itself, there are societies that are more “collectivist”, or conversely, more “individualistic”.

The second problem is related to the fact that the West itself is extremely heterogeneous. It consists of many ways and cultures. Yes, there is a common narrative promoted by security organisations (NATO), those promoting economic and political integration (the EU), and individual nation states. But under this surface there is a great degree of variety, which simply cannot be reduced to a common denominator. Conservative Poland, with its restrained attitude towards migrants, high religiosity and the prohibition of abortions, coexists with a multicultural Germany, which has much wider boundaries of tolerance. Within Italy, there are at least two subcultures: of the North and South. Moreover, they differ radically in the peculiarities of the organization of society, in labour ethics, and in electoral preferences. The United States is also distinguished by its significant level of diversity, even though it is often mistakenly regarded as a kind of homogeneous organism, transmitting values of the same order abroad. Internal differences are sometimes colossal. What are the informal rifts between the North and the South that have been preserved since the Civil War? In America, we will also find polar views on the theme of sexual minorities, which Russian critics love. Those of tolerant California will be very different, for example, from those of “the Cotton Belt”. The occasional murder of members of sexual minorities is a part of American life. They can happen anywhere. You can recall the historical experience. The well-known McCarthyism of the 1950s coexisted with the activities of John Peurifoy, the Deputy Undersecretary of State for Administration. He “exposed” the “homosexual underground” in his department, firing 91 employees. True, at that time, representatives of minorities were also considered to be clandestine communists.

In short, by declaring that the West is a force that promotes “broad views of life”, we can find, to put it mildly, misunderstandings among large segments of the population in Western countries who hold completely opposite views. Any generalisation here requires careful calculation and elaboration.

Finally, the third problematic aspect is the specificity of the Russian society itself. Since at least the 17th century, we have been under the powerful cultural and civilisational influence of the West. Moreover, the openness to such influence was a deliberate decision of the political elites. The Westernisation of Russia began at the top and was actively promoted by the Russian leaders with certain fluctuations for more than three centuries. We tried to borrow the core of the Western experience — the rationalisation of key political institutions, their transformation into a smoothly working efficient machine. Here we are primarily talking about the army, bureaucracy and instruments of disciplinary power. Without this borrowing, Russia, apparently, would have suffered the same fate as China in the 19th century, which was literally torn to pieces by more advanced opponents. Instead, the modernisation of the army and the political apparatus in accordance with Western models brought Russia the status of a great power.

Throughout the 19th century, battles between Westernisers and Slavophiles were fought in Russia. Both camps were not satisfied with the half-heartedness of modernisation and relations with the West. The Slavophiles, as you know, called for “returning to the roots”, believing that borrowing only distorted and disfigured the Russian historical path. The Westernisers, on the contrary, urged to complete the process, not to be limited by the army and the apparatus of coercion, and to modernise all social and political institutions.

The revolution of 1917 and the victory of Soviet power can hardly be considered a victory for the Westernisers or Slavophiles. But the form of Westernisation which is familiar to us has been preserved and even intensified. Socialist (communist) ideology itself was of Western origin. Yes, the Russian Marxists have made their notable and original contributions to it. But the basic principles remained those of Enlightenment and rationalism — that is, Western. Here is the belief in the creativity of man (anthropological optimism and humanism), and emancipation in all spheres, including, incidentally, family and sexual relations, and the primacy of human rights and freedoms. Of course, it all turned out a little differently. In fact, the usual imperial model of modernisation was reproduced: the development of the army, the apparatus of disciplinary power, as well as all the industrial and scientific potential necessary for a modernisation breakthrough. At the same time came the preservation and sharp strengthening of the space of non-freedom. The mixture of modernisation of the institutions of coercion with the mass character of modernisation according to the Western model, among other things, gave rise to specific forms of totalitarian being set up within society, which, however, became softer over time. The eternal half-heartedness of our Westernisation, its exaggeration in some areas, and sublimation in others, became one of the reasons for the collapse of the Soviet state.

Is the dispute between conventional Westernisers and Slavophiles relevant now? Unlikely so. In the nineteenth century, Russia really did have a cultural base of bearers of “traditional” values. We are talking about the village and large masses of people who were not involved in modern forms of organisation of the economy and society. The deepest rupture and at the same time the inextricable connection between them and the elite of the time is perfectly described in classical Russian literature. However, in the twentieth century, this base was largely destroyed. The Soviet modernisation project melted agrarian Russia into an industrial and urbanised country with a completely different way of life. Religious institutions were simply trampled underfoot. In terms of secularisation, we are far ahead of the West.

In terms of urbanisation and lifestyle, late Soviet and post-Soviet Russia were and are a Western society with all its attendant problems. Society has lost its traditional landmarks.

Our family institution is a typical Western model with a small number of children and a high divorce rate. Moreover, this trend was entrenched back in the 1960s. The collapse of the USSR and the collapse of the economy only exacerbated all the typical problems of an urban and modernised society. There is a high level of murders and suicides, alcoholism, and the atomisation of society.

In other words, it is difficult for us to offer the world and ourselves an alternative to “traditional culture”, since during the 20th century its social base was lost as a result of unprecedented modernisation. It made it possible to achieve large-scale results and turn the Soviet Union into a superpower. But it also had a price. In comparison with Russia, the countries of, for example, the Middle East region have had a much more significant potential for constructing a “traditional” identity, if only because of the decisive role of religion in political public life. Is all of Russia ready for such an experience? Obviously not, especially given the fact that our country itself is rather heterogeneous. The post-Soviet period has intensified this heterogeneity. The outstripping modernisation of large cities was accompanied by an equally tangible demodernisation in a number of regions and segments of Russian society. Moreover, the experience of modernisation and demodernisation is intricately intertwined.

Does it mean that tradition in such a society is generally impossible? Of course not. But this is a different type of tradition. A tradition based on patriotism, citizenship and the preservation of historical memory is not much different in structure from similar patterns in many Western countries. This means that the opposition to the West here will also be very notional.

Whether we like it or not, our ties with the West are not going anywhere. Political contradictions and a military threat will force us, at least, to take into account the Western experience of organising the army, industry and science.

Value impulses from various Western countries will come to us even if we strictly censor information and the public space. In Russian society, social groups persist with a demand for the modernisation of the economy, institutions and society, including those which reflect the Western model. The fact that such groups are a minority is unlikely to be directly correlated with their influence. The Russian elite itself is Westernised. There are also numerous cadres in economics, science and other critical areas that cannot exist in a closed society. Cleansing these spheres and even mass repressions will not solve the problem in principle, because these spheres themselves work or should work in the frame of reference of a modern, modernised society.

Finally, the most important thing. Values alone do not prevent political conflicts from arising. The peoples of Russia and Ukraine, for example, are close in terms of their respective value spheres. But politically Moscow and Kiev are opponents. There are a lot of similar examples. The modern West is literally built on bones. For several centuries, wars between members of the “united Christian community” have been an almost-daily routine in international relations. The long-lasting peace of the last 76 years is historically an anomalous exception. One should not be afraid of values as such, but of political conflicts that can exploit these values. Russia needs modernisation, which, in turn, is impossible without interaction with Western societies. Just like 300 years ago, borrowing foreign experience and combining it with one’s own vision and strategic objectives can become the key to the country’s survival.

From our partner RIAC

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