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The geopolitics of sanctions against Russia

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The US and EU sanctions currently operating against the Russian Federation were imposed following the Russian support for the “separatists” of the Eastern areas of Donetsk and Lugansk, Ukraine, namely ethnically Russian areas, which wanted to separate – or more likely to become autonomous – from the rest of the country.

It is hard to say whether the Ukrainian conflict was started   at first by the Euromaidan‘s pro-Western militants or if either one or the former used violent ways and means  because, as usual, the issue of sanctions is mainly political: to force – with mandatory commercial limitations extra omnes or, in any case, for the countries adhering to the primary international organizations – to reduce the political, economic, financial and hence military potential of a target country.

With four executive orders, the United States has imposed a sequence of sanctions against Russia, while it is still unclear whether the sanction regime always fully hits the target country or if it manages to direct its negative repercussions only to the geopolitical sector to be targeted.

In the long history of sanctions the excess of punishments towards the target country has always been a classic strategy, which later succeeds inadvertently to create mass support for the “bad” leader or the “dangerous” party, regardless of its being populist, sovereignist, “racist” or otherwise.

Today the old ideologies of Evil do not apply any longer – hence we need to invent a new labelling for global defamation, well beyond the usual totalitarianism. Or we need to artfully create many media opportunities that often –  if photographed – have no actual relationship with the crimes perpetrated by the target State.

In a way, sanctions are essentially the planned exclusion of the target country from the world market: in the case of Russia, the US sanctions are aimed at restricting the Russian access to the international financial services, to the US energy industry and obviously to the military industry.

These goals purpose are attainable both by reporting and blocking the personal and financial movements of specific personalities, such as entrepreneurs, financiers and managers of the target State placed in specific lists, now often public.

Or goods and capital are blocked.

Or again, always according to the American operating tradition, the potential for debt of an enterprise of the enemy State may be reduced significantly, but only on the international market. Or there may be the prohibition of making certain goods, services and technologies available to the “target country”.

In essence, for the Russian Federation this still regards the extraction and refining of natural gas and oil.

Furthermore, the US sanctions against Russia are aimed at restricting the export of Russian military products and, in any case, imposing the block for spare parts or the construction of weapon systems that can ultimately be used in Russia as well.

In the United States the economic sanctions are administered by OFAC and export controls are managed by the US Department of Commerce, Bureau of Industry and Security, in addition to the US Department of State, Directorate of Defense Trade Controls.

Without further complicating the framework, Directive No. 1 of OFAC regards the financial and service sectors of the Russian economy.

It prohibits any transaction longer than thirty days with all the subjects included in the lists regarding people of Russian origin or, in any case, operating in favour of the Russian government.

Directive No. 2 prevents any type of economic or financial transaction for individuals and entities dealing with, offering or carrying out transactions, on behalf of the Russian system, relating to natural gas and oil coming from the Russian territory.

Following the same procedure of the above mentioned transactions, Directive No. 3 deals with control and exclusion of the Russian Federation from the global market of military technologies.

Finally, Directive No. 4 regards the ban on normal commercial relations with Russia regarding the oil and gas from the Arctic and the unspecified “neighbouring areas”.

In 2014, by imposing measures “against the Russian industrial sector”,   the above mentioned Bureau of Industry and Security (BIS) implemented and improved the sanctions imposing a specific license on Russia for some commercial products, especially if the exporters “know whether what they sell to Russia can be used, directly or indirectly, for gas and oil extraction or whether these exports can be used for deepwater exploration in Russia or anyway in the Arctic.

Furthermore, the aforementioned BIS blocks any export of products that may anyway contain parts which can be used in the current weapon systems.

After the “events” occurred in Crimea, the EU sanctions against Russia are quite different from the US ones, although they may often overlap.

This is the sign of a political and strategic overlapping that cannot takes us a long way and that, indeed, many military elites, including NATO’s, consider obsolete.

This is certainly not due to anti-Americanism, but to a complex assessment of the EU and US strategic and commercial goals.

Overlapping of new areas of influence or their natural future divergence? Naturally different interests between the EU and the United States in Africa and the Middle East or not?

The issue is complex and not well-defined yet.

Europe, however, has imposed more traditional sanctions  against the Russian Federation, regarding individuals and implying travel bans or freezing of funds.

Furthermore, measures are envisaged in the EU limiting the access to financial capital for specific Russian financial and defence institutions.

There are also restrictions on the export of dual-use goods and technologies that may somehow refer to war operations, as well as other restrictions relating to the technologies included in the Common Military List, and obviously other restrictions on oil technologies.

There are many differences between the two sanction regimes.

The United States scrutinizes both oil and those working in this industry, while Europe only oil.

With specific reference to the EU sanctions, however, the Duma proposes to block the “commercial paper” issued by GAZPROM, which would imply that the European oil companies could be sanctioned if they bought GAZPROM payment notes which, however, are extraterritorial.

For the EU, currently the companies Rosneft, Transneft and Gazpromneft are the only ones that have been sanctioned.

None of the two sanction regimes, however, makes explicit references to “natural gas” – only oil is always mentioned.

Moreover the EU legislation is not extraterritorial while, in case of suspicious dollar “transactions” through American  banks, the US legislation can manage these transactions as if they were made on its national territory.

Has the United States probably built the complex web of anti-Russian sanctions since 2004 with a view to weakening the European competition?

As we will see later on, this is another possible hypothesis.

Besides seriously harming the European economy, which some important media sources estimate at over 100 billion euro for the whole EU, as well as two million jobs lost, we must consider that the effects are even more complex for the United States.

For the Russian Federation, however, the sanction effects are quite complex, even though it is a simple “target country”.

In 2009 the Russian economy shrank immediately by 2.8%, following the classic rule whereby the economies subjected to sanctions are more sensitive to the asymmetric shocks coming from outside.

The following year, however, Russia grew by 4.5%, thus showing signs of recovery indicating a centralized and planned reaction to both the global crisis and the economic war operations, namely the sanctions against it.

Foreign investment in Russia is still falling and, according to the latest data of the Bank for International Settlements, loans from abroad have fallen from 225 to 103 billion euro.

Hence not many dangerous effects, except for the magnification of the negative fluctuations on international markets.

So far Russia has reacted to the closure of some Western markets with a brilliant and unexpected geopolitical move for the United States, namely the rapprochement with China.

In this regard, the effects are clear: the rapprochement has favoured the block of the Ukrainian crisis, which becomes secondary in the Kremlin scenario. It has also facilitated the entry – even informally – of a large mass of Chinese capital into Russia and has finally added strategic value to the economic relationship between Russia and China.

The rapprochement has favoured not only the commercial flows between the two countries, which had been falling since 2015, but has mainly given rise to old and new bilateral projects: a pipeline, other infrastructural networks and cross-border free trade areas.

Furthermore, Russia and China, which are alien and even opposed to the logic of sanctions, are creating financial and commercial institutions according to their autonomous criteria, which will certainly be immune from US and EU sanctions.

As Putin knows all too well, the problem is that the relationship with China is fully asymmetric and runs the risk of generating Russian dependence on China.

Furthermore Russia is not interested in the tension between China and the United States and does not want to be “involved” in the bilateral trade competition between China and the United States.

The positive aspects for Russia are the following: Russian weapons are particularly suitable for the Chinese market and the plans for the Siberian pipeline between Russia and China are still in place; Shanghai and Hong Kong will soon become the financial bases for many Russian companies; the vast commercial area thus created between South Korea, Vietnam and Taiwan already establishes a small Asian “EU system” that can act as an important stimulus for reviving the Russian economy.

On the other hand, China has never appreciated the Russian move on Crimea, even though it has never officially pronounced itself in this regard.

Never “make a sound in the East, then strike in the West”. Currently there are not the conditions for China to require – at  military and strategic levels – what the “Western devils” can already provide at economic level.

Moreover, the strategic suicide of the West is already fine as it is.

And again, the US and EU sanctions have enabled China to prevent its worst-case scenario in the Heartland, namely the final economic and political integration between Russia and Eastern Europe in the EU.

Moreover, this expansion east of the Russian Federation corresponds to a series of counter-sanctions  culminating, for Russia, in the ban on European fruit and vegetables. The agricultural sector has been systematically brought to its knees by the Russian policies, which have created farmers’ strong political pressure to lift the sanctions against the Russian Federation.

Political use of an economic choice, namely counter-sanctions where the European “enemy” is weaker,  that is in the protected and subsidized economy of the European agribusiness sector.

The Russian response has been the expansion of domestic production, with the strong help of Belarus supporting the “missing share” of the new “internal production”.

The countermeasures of Russian consumers are as follows: certainly prices have risen, but they buy less and even fish consumption is falling.

Nevertheless, if we go back to the general architecture of  sanctions against the Russian Federation, we can note many other facts.

For example, we can note that – apart from the weak traditional and media justification, with many “violent acts” artfully caused by militants of uncertain nature – the oil sanctions are designed to reach one single purpose, namely to make Europeans – who for too long have not “resorted to” the US producers – buy the shale oil and gas they are finally able to produce, indeed already in a situation of almost full energy self-sufficiency.

Hence sanctions decided in the United States to compete with the North Stream 2 between Russia and Germany, crossing the Baltic and cutting the cost of natural gas to such levels that only dumping from the United States can be  carried out to impose its gas against the one which can be found closer to our countries.

Dumping is useless: we can build an integrated economy between the United States, the EU and Russia, with new geopolitical “rules of engagement”.

Hence the US sanctions are sanctions against Europe to rebuild manu militari the transatlantic market that could not be put back together elsewhere, not even in the agri-food sector where, in fact, the laws  are already so differentiated between the United States and the EU to make any exchange impossible.

Economic war through rules and regulations.

However, while the dollar has risen to 76% against the ruble since the beginning of sanctions in 2014, it remains anyway excluded from the Russian domestic market – hence it is a Pyrrhic victory.

In short, the Russian Foreign Minister, Sergei Lavrov, is right when he says that “sanctions are used to impose a regime change in Russia”.

Between 2014 and 2017, some studies ascertained that there was a fall in the Russian GDP and some damage to its economy worth at least 170 billion US dollars.

Italy alone lost at least 1.25 billion euros, especially in the agri-food and small craft sectors.

However, let us revert to Lavrov: he is the right mediator and broker to gradually and reasonably put an end to the sanction regime imposed by the United States and the EU against the Russian Federation, of which he has been the Minister for Foreign Affairs since 2004.

Lavrov, who knows that “there are no alternatives to dialogue”, also knows that Russia has not well clarified the situation of Crimea – beyond the objective truth which is hard to verify.

In this case it is not a matter of discussing the right of the Russian-speaking populations in the region to join the motherland. The issue lies in finding how to create a united Ukraine, really respectful of its minorities and, above all, as autonomous from Russia as from the European and NATO designs.

A trilateral treaty between the EU, the United States and  Russia could be a good starting point.

Lavrov has the mediation skills and long experience needed for the job.

At strategic level, it must be clear that NATO no longer expands itself towards the Donbass area and the Ukrainian-Georgian region, while the Russian influence operations – either covert or not – on those countries’ governments will be prohibited.

Obviously old wounds and new appetites return: Poland’s  desire to regain Ukraine it misses; the US and NATO passion for encircling the Russian Federation which, however, has already emerged from this encirclement with a clear victory in Syria, which proves its great strategic wisdom.

The encirclement of Russia with the NATO and US autonomous power is fully irrational.

The US bases encircle also Iran, another Russian inevitable ally: but what is the US strategic logic?

Hence a mediation will be needed, implying to reassure the United States that in Ukraine and Georgia there will never be “anti-Western” regimes, but Russia must be sure that all EU, Polish, US and other countries’ operations will not be such as to try to convince Ukrainians and Georgians to let  Russia down in the region.

Moreover Russia shall make it clear that – after years of disastrous legacy of the “Cold War” – its policy is trying to let the United States enter again new and old regions. These regions, however, must not be thought as no longer being in a situation of equilibrium – as we could reason at the time of the “Cold War” and of the unfortunate post-Cold War period – since said equilibrium does no longer rely on strategic thinking, but on small territorial or positional conquests.

Furthermore, the United States could de-escalate tension with China through its new relations with Russia, which would act as an effective mediator and broker just because Russia has not – and will never have – common strategic and geopolitical interests with China.

If we begin to think in multipolar terms – where the United States has often developed its longest and most brilliant  geopolitical projects – everything gets clearer.

This could be Lavrov’s new job to be performed along with his US counterpart Tillerson.

Advisory Board Co-chair Honoris Causa Professor Giancarlo Elia Valori is an eminent Italian economist and businessman. He holds prestigious academic distinctions and national orders. Mr. Valori has lectured on international affairs and economics at the world’s leading universities such as Peking University, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and the Yeshiva University in New York. He currently chairs “International World Group”, he is also the honorary president of Huawei Italy, economic adviser to the Chinese giant HNA Group. In 1992 he was appointed Officier de la Légion d’Honneur de la République Francaise, with this motivation: “A man who can see across borders to understand the world” and in 2002 he received the title “Honorable” of the Académie des Sciences de l’Institut de France. “

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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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