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Arctic: Back to “Normalcy”

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When a year draws to a close, tradition dictates that we take stock of the past 12 months and plan for the future. What developments has 2018 seen in the Arctic and, to paraphrase Pushkin, “what fate is our next year brewing”?

2018 did not bring with it any unexpected solutions or, conversely, any dramatic events prompting a sharp exacerbation in the region. For instance, the President of Finland’s “breakthrough idea” of an “Arctic summit” did not materialize. Finland will continue to chair the Arctic Council until the spring of 2019, and such a summit would sound a powerful chord at the end of the country’s northern “work.” However, Donald Trump’s sceptical attitude to such events, where he would be wary of attempts to talk him into going back to the 2015 Paris Agreement and convince him to conclude some new multilateral agreements on the Arctic, truly put the notion to bed.

On the other hand, the grim predictions of some Western analysts to the effect that the Ukrainian and Syrian crises would produce a negative effect on other regions, including the Arctic, where various powers would step up their struggle for control over natural resources, and that the military confrontation between NATO and Russia would expand, did not come true either. The forecasts of China’s expansion in the Arctic under the slogan of developing the “Polar Silk Road” initiative, part of the larger “One Belt One Road,” also came to naught. Beijing was quite constructive and demonstrated in every possible way its respect for the sovereignty of the Arctic nations.

As for Moscow, it continued the consistent implementation of its socioeconomic development of the Arctic Zone of the Russian Federation (AZRF) programme in 2018. The Yamal LNG plant reached its design capacity. Seven out of fifteen icebreaker-class LNG carriers capable of delivering freight to customers all year round already sail the Northern Sea Route (NSR), transporting gas from the Port of Sabetta. Novatek plans to build another LNG plant (Arctic LNG-3) at the Salmanovskoye (Utrenneye) oil and gas field in the north of the Gydan Peninsula. In summer 2018, Novatek discovered the large Severo-Obsk field in the Gulf of Ob that might require building a third LNG plant.

Russia’s bilateral relations with individual states involved in Arctic affairs developed in a satisfactory manner. Joint steps are being taken with Norway to protect the marine biological resources of the Barents Sea, prevent poaching and improve collaboration in search and rescue operations for persons suffering distress in the Barents Sea.

In 2018, Russia and the United States achieved an agreement on approving routes for vessels travelling through the Bering Strait and in the Bering Sea. Information on the agreement was submitted to the International Maritime Organization. The parties agreed to establish six bilateral lanes and six areas to be avoided for safe navigation in the Bering Sea and the strait between two oceans. The map of the lanes will allow countries to avoid the many shallows, reefs and islands beyond the lanes and reduce the risk of environmental disasters.

On the whole, the situation that has shaped up in the Arctic in 2018 can be generally described with the English saying “back to normalcy.”

When a year draws to a close, tradition dictates that we take stock of the past 12 months and plan for the future. What developments has 2018 seen in the Arctic and, to paraphrase Pushkin, “what fate is our next year brewing”?

2018 did not bring with it any unexpected solutions or, conversely, any dramatic events prompting a sharp exacerbation in the region. For instance, the President of Finland’s “breakthrough idea” of an “Arctic summit” did not materialize. Finland will continue to chair the Arctic Council until the spring of 2019, and such a summit would sound a powerful chord at the end of the country’s northern “work.” However, Donald Trump’s sceptical attitude to such events, where he would be wary of attempts to talk him into going back to the 2015 Paris Agreement and convince him to conclude some new multilateral agreements on the Arctic, truly put the notion to bed.

On the other hand, the grim predictions of some Western analysts to the effect that the Ukrainian and Syrian crises would produce a negative effect on other regions, including the Arctic, where various powers would step up their struggle for control over natural resources, and that the military confrontation between NATO and Russia would expand, did not come true either. The forecasts of China’s expansion in the Arctic under the slogan of developing the “Polar Silk Road” initiative, part of the larger “One Belt One Road,” also came to naught. Beijing was quite constructive and demonstrated in every possible way its respect for the sovereignty of the Arctic nations.

On the whole, the situation that has shaped up in the Arctic in 2018 can be generally described with the English saying “back to normalcy.”

As for Moscow, it continued the consistent implementation of its socioeconomic development of the Arctic Zone of the Russian Federation (AZRF) programme in 2018. The Yamal LNG plant reached its design capacity. Seven out of fifteen icebreaker-class LNG carriers capable of delivering freight to customers all year round already sail the Northern Sea Route (NSR), transporting gas from the Port of Sabetta. Novatek plans to build another LNG plant (Arctic LNG-3) at the Salmanovskoye (Utrenneye) oil and gas field in the north of the Gydan Peninsula. In summer 2018, Novatek discovered the large Severo-Obsk field in the Gulf of Ob that might require building a third LNG plant.

LNG is mostly shipped to countries in East and Southeast Asia, but some LNG shipments go to European customers, which prompted a sharp reaction from the United States, which intends to sell its own LNG to Europe; thus far, however, the United States is behind Russia in shipment volumes and cannot compete with Russia pricewise. In November 2018, the U.S. Department of State expressed concern over Europe purchasing Russia’s LNG, believing that it increases Europe’s dependence on Russia and in the final analysis allegedly undercuts Europe’s energy security.

Solving its own energy problems in the remote regions of the AZRF, Russia intends to site a floating nuclear power plant (FNPP) in Pevek (Chukotka). Currently, nuclear fuel is being loaded on the FNPP in Murmansk, and in 2019, it will be transported to Pevek. The FNPP is intended to replace the Bilibino Nuclear Power Plant and the Chaunskaya Thermal Power Plant in Pevek, which have nearly exhausted their lifespan.

Moscow continues its course to actively develop the Northern Sea Route as both a national maritime route and an international transportation route. There has been a significant increase in the activity of ports connected with energy commodities supplies: Sabetta (Novatek), Novy Port (Gazpromneft) and Varandei (LUKOIL). Compared to 2017, the volume of freight carried over the Northern Sea Route has grown by 80 per cent. The Northern Sea Route infrastructure is gradually being upgraded. This includes ports and infrastructure needed for search and rescue, navigation, meteorology, etc. Novatek has decided on a site for an LNG transhipment terminal in Kamchatka. The terminal will be built in the Bechevinskaya Bay, where Arctic LNG will be transhipped to customers’ vessels and subsequently delivered to East and Southeast Asia. This is profitable for both the company, whose ice class LNG carriers will not have to sail warm seas, and for Asia Pacific customers, who will be able to use ships without ice strengthening.

Of course, international transit shipments along the Northern Sea Route are not developing as fast as had been hoped, but certain progress has been made in this area.

To prevent and relieve emergencies along the Northern Sea Route and in the Arctic as a whole, the Ministry for Civil Defence, Emergencies, and Disaster Relief of the Russian Federation formed a unit that entails building 11 comprehensive Arctic rescue and emergency centres Currently, five centres are in operation in the Northwestern Federal District (Naryan-Mar, Arkhangelsk, Vorkuta and Murmansk) and one is in operation in Dudinka in the Siberian Federal District. They are on standby to provide immediate response to emergencies in the Arctic.

The Ministry for Civil Defence, Emergencies and Disaster Relief of the Russian Federation in collaboration with Roscosmos established joint centres in Murmansk, Dudinka and Anadyr for receiving and processing space information.  In October 2015, the first Arctic Centre for Remote Earth Sensing was established at the Murmansk Region Main Office of Russia’s Ministry for Civil Defence, Emergencies and Disaster Relief together with Roscosmos, and is functioning successfully. The Centre makes it possible to provide prompt information on all risks significant for the region: deteriorating ice, forest fires, flood situations, emergencies stemming from oil and oil product spills in marine basins.

The Northern Sea Route management system has undergone major changes. In 2018, the Ministry of Transport of the Russian Federation and Rosatom agreed to divide their powers on the management of the Northern Sea Route. The Ministry will retain its powers with regard to: the legal regulation of navigation on the Northern Sea Route; Russia’s compliance with its international obligations; supervising and monitoring functions, including the approval of navigation safety standards and requirements, etc. Meanwhile, Rosatom will have the powers of the principal operator of the Northern Sea Route, the manager of budgetary allocations, and the head administrator of budget revenues and the public procurement authority for state programmes to develop the Northern Sea Route, sustainable operations and the Northern Sea Route port infrastructure. Rosatom will also be vested with the power to ensure year-round navigation and piloting along the Northern Sea Route. Rosatom has established a Northern Sea Route directorate. A draft law on the management of the Northern Sea Route is currently under consideration in the State Duma.

New land infrastructure is also being established alongside the maritime infrastructure to service the AZRF. In May 2018, construction started on a bridge over the Ob River between the cities of Salekhard and Labytnangi, the key part of the so-called Northern Latitudinal Railway. The new railway in the Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous District will be 707 kilometres long, running along the Obskaya – Salekhard – Nadym – Novy Urengoi – Korotchayevo route and linking the Severnaya (Northern) and Sverdlovskaya railways.

Another project involves building a new Belkomur (White, or Beloye, Sea – Komi – the Urals) railway along the Arkhangelsk – Syktyvkar – Solikamsk route. The railway will be 1161 kilometres long and will cut the delivery distance for freight from the Urals and Siberia down to 850 kilometres. It will have a capacity of up to 35 million tonnes of freight annually. Thus far, the project is searching for investors. It is worth noting here that foreign investors have already shown interest in the project. For instance, China’s Poly International Holding is ready to invest $5.5 billion.

Russian regions interested in developing the AZRF are stepping up collaboration. For instance, in May 2018, Governor of St. Petersburg Georgy Poltavchenko concluded a bilateral cooperation agreement with several AZRF regions: Yakutia, Krasnoyarsk Krai, the Komi Republic and the Murmansk Region. The decision was made to establish a Committee on Arctic Affairs at the St. Petersburg city administration, which will become fully functional in 2019.

The State Committee on Arctic Development has been reshuffled. Former Deputy Prime Minister of the Russian Federation Dmitry Rogozin will be replaced as the head of the Committee by Yuri Trutnev, a new Deputy Prime Minister in charge of the development of the Far East and Siberia.

New and impressive plans for exploring the Arctic were unveiled at a recent governmental meeting in Sabetta on the development of the Arctic, which was chaired by Prime Minister of the Russian Federation Dmitry Medvedev. In the period 2019–2024, Moscow intends to attract 5.5 trillion roubles in public and private investment for the purpose. This amount will reach 13.5 trillion roubles by 2050. Following these developments, the voices of “Arctic sceptics” on the state’s waning interest in the region and the inevitable decline of the AZRF have been far less noticeable.

Along with the socioeconomic development AZRF, Moscow has continued to bolster Russia’s defence capabilities in the region. For instance, the military infrastructure of the Russian Arctic is being improved by reconstructing several polar airfields and military bases that will be used as dual-purpose facilities (for both military and civil purposes). In all, 13 airfields, a ground aeronautical range, and ten radar locations and air direction centres will be built in the AZRF.

The army and navy are being rearmed with new weapons. For instance, rocket artillery units of the Northern Fleet are being rearmed with new Bastion and Bal coastal defence missile systems to protect the Arctic coast. In 2018, the Russian military received new Tor-M2DT mobile systems capable of operating in low temperatures (as low as −50 degrees Celsius). The first military icebreaker – Ilya Muromets, which is now part of the Northern Fleet – completed its ice testing programme, and on its return to home port piloted the strategic missile cruiser Yuri Dolgoruky through the ice fields of the White Sea. The Border Service of the Federal Security Service of the Russian Federation are set to receive new Polyarnaya Zvezda (Polar Star) ice class vessels.

In 2019, a new naval base will open in Tiksi on the coast of the Laptev Sea. In 2019, the Knyaz Vladimir Borei class strategic submarine and the Kazan multipurpose nuclear submarine will join the fleet.

As for the international situation in the Arctic in 2018, it was characterized by rather contradictory trends.

On the one hand, NATO stepped up its activities in the region in 2018. The alliance continued to build up and strengthen its military activities in the Arctic by preparing forward airfields, modernizing sea ports and creating a system of prepositioned stockpiling. Provocative military activity was recorded close to Russian borders.

NATO started holding regularly military exercises in the Arctic. In 2018, the alliance held its largest ever drill in the north. 50,000 troops, 250 aircraft and 65 large surface ships from 31 states participated. The drill failed to have an intimidating and provocative effect, though. Moscow reacted rather calmly and did not respond in kind, for instance, by holding an exercise on a similar scale.

The new U.S. administration did not act in a manner that is conducive to increasing Arctic cooperation. Soon after moving into the White House, the new President announced the withdrawal of the United States from the Paris Agreement on the grounds that it went against the national interests of the United States by holding back the development of American industries. In his national security strategy published in December 2017, Donald Trump announced his intention to conduct a policy of “energy dominance” (in contrast to Barack Obama’s energy safety policy). An integral part of the policy is to produce oil and gas in those parts of Alaska where production had been virtually prohibited before, that is, in the National Petroleum Reserve and the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, on the Alaska shelf and in the basins of the Chukotka and Beaufort seas.

Donald Trump has also repeatedly voiced his criticisms and claims he was “not satisfied with the outcomes of international bodies it engages with” in the Arctic. Although the new administration did not block the agreements on expanding scientific cooperation in the Arctic (May 2017) and prohibiting unregulated fishing in the Central Arctic Ocean (November 2017) developed with the participation of Obama’s “team,” it was made clear the United States was not going to actively promote their implementation. It is no accident that polar research financing was cut by a total of 10.3 per cent in 2018 compared to the 2016 fiscal year. Arctic research financing fell by 18.1 per cent over the same period. The changes in the Arctic policies of the President of the United States resulted in major personnel reshuffling in the Trump administration. Over 2017–2018, virtually all key officials of the Department of State in charge of the U.S. Arctic policy resigned, as they had advocated the active participation of the United States in Arctic cooperation programmes. The United States has noticeably reduced its activities in the Arctic Council, the principal regional institution. Washington’s partners in the Arctic dialogue do not yet have a clear idea of the contents and priorities of the Trump administration’s Arctic Strategy.

At the same time, these negative trends were partially offset by a series of positive developments in international Artic cooperation.

The Agreement on Enhancing International Arctic Scientific Cooperation between Canada, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Russia, Sweden, and the United States that was concluded in 2017 entered into force in May 2018.

In October 2018, an agreement prohibiting commercial fishing in the Central Arctic Ocean was officially signed. The principal parameters of the agreement were approved by the Arctic “five” (Canada, Denmark, Norway, Russia and the United States), Iceland, China, South Korea, Japan and the European Union back in November 2017, but it took time to fine-tune some technical details.

Russia’s bilateral relations with individual states involved in Arctic affairs developed in a satisfactory manner. Joint steps are being taken with Norway to protect the marine biological resources of the Barents Sea, prevent poaching and improve collaboration in search and rescue operations for persons suffering distress in the Barents Sea. The United States Coast Guard and the Kamchatka Territory Border Guard Department of the Federal Security Service of the Russian Federation have accumulated significant experience in the joint maritime and air patrolling of the Chukotka Sea basin and monitoring the navigational situation on the Bering Strait. In March 2018, officials of the coast guard services of eight countries agreed on holding the second live exercise of the Arctic Coast Guard Forum (established in 2015) in Finnish waters in early 2019.

In 2018, Russia and the United States achieved an agreement on approving routes for vessels travelling through the Bering Strait and in the Bering Sea. Information on the agreement was submitted to the International Maritime Organization. The parties agreed to establish six bilateral lanes and six areas to be avoided for safe navigation in the Bering Sea and the strait between two oceans. The map of the lanes will allow countries to avoid the many shallows, reefs and islands beyond the lanes and reduce the risk of environmental disasters.

South Korea continued to implement an ambitious project to build 15 ice class LNG carriers for Russia.

The development of Russia’s relations with China was particularly dynamic. Back in 2017, Beijing proposed the Polar Silk Road initiative, part of China’s larger “Belt and Road” initiative (the Silk Road Economic Belt and the 21st century Maritime Silk Road). In January 2018, China published its White Paper on the Arctic, offering the first explanation of its strategy in the North. Much attention here is given to cooperation with Russia.

On the whole, 2018 laid some good groundwork for the future both in ensuring the sustainable development of the AZRF and in bolstering international cooperation in this strategically important region.

First published in our partner RIAC

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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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