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Despite challenges, Russia progresses with vaccination at home and abroad

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image source: Kremlin.ru

President Vladimir Putin has praised the entire healthcare system, and particularly the hard-working team of scientists and specialists from different institutions for their efforts at research and creating a series of coronavirus vaccines for use against the coronavirus both at home and abroad. Three vaccines already registered in Russia, two of them – Sputnik V and EpiVacCorona – are produced in large quantities by Russian pharmaceutical companies and are currently used for vaccination. It is additionally planned to rollout another one – CoviVac.

Despite the pandemic-related challenges, the domestic pharmaceutical companies, in conjunction with research institutes, have managed to accomplish a multitude of objectives in order to deploy new vaccine production sites in a short amount of time, Putin said during a videoconference meeting focused on increasing the manufacturing capacity of COVID-19 vaccines and the progress of vaccination in Russia.

Unreservedly made reference to staff qualities such as consistent and effective hard-work, truly selfless work and responsible attitude, and further urged them to continue making relentless efforts in stabilising the spread of the coronavirus infections and in protecting the life and health of millions of people in the country.

Putin further noted that the implementation of a wide range of preventive measures, including widespread vaccination, has played a significant role in normalising the epidemic situation. Overall, 6.3 million Russians have taken the first part of the vaccine, of these 4.3 million have been vaccinated in full, that is, they have received both vaccine components.

“We can safely say, and the practical results indisputably corroborate, the fact that the Russian vaccines are absolutely safe and dependable. Our success is recognised abroad as well. The number of countries using the Sputnik V vaccine is expanding fast, more countries around the world are showing interest in our vaccine with 55 countries having authorised its use,” he told the meeting.

In addition, Russia now has a number of contracts with foreign manufacturers, – these are foreign manufacturers who will be producing our vaccine on their territory – have been signed for the number of doses needed to vaccinate 700 million people per year. The latest, it has signed a contract with an Indian company for doses to vaccinate 100 million people. Indisputably, working with 55 countries means a total population of 1.4 billion. There are plans to expand the number of partner countries and that will reach estimated 2.5 billion people.

While Russia and its pharmaceutical companies are considering the dynamics of the global market and the demand for Russian-made vaccines, and expanding their production capacities, it equally places emphasis on domestic needs, supplying and vaccinating Russian citizens with vaccines, is an absolute priority. It is estimated that at least 60 percent of all adults in the country must be vaccinated for complete stabilisation. This requires 69.8 million sets of vaccine doses. At any rate, there are more than 20 million Sputnik V doses, according to Russian president, quoting his Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin.

In his contribution at the meeting, Minister of Industry Denis Manturov informed that under the plan, 12.5 million sets of the vaccine must be produced in March. The planned figure for April is 17 million. It is planned to continue building up production so as to have over 80 million of two-component doses by the first six months.

According to him, all these amounts will be primarily used to vaccinate Russian citizens. In order to meet the global demand for Russian vaccines, his ministry is working on scaling up production of vaccines and on transferring technology abroad. It already has comprehensive agreements on this with manufacturers in 10 countries.

Healthcare Minister Mikhail Murashko informed the meeting about organisations that keep monitoring the virus’s mutations, including those in Russia. “We are analysing the efficiency of medicines for preventing the disease caused by various strains. This work is ongoing continuously and involves several agencies,” he said, and further mentioned the need to increase the speed of vaccination.

By the end of March, our healthcare facilities will receive over 6.5 million dozes of Sputnik V. We expect that a total of some 30 million dozes will be delivered in April and May. As of now, there are 4,500 stationary vaccination stations across Russia, and plans to increase this figure, as well as over 1,000 mobile stations.

Participating in the meeting, Pharmstandard Chairman of the Board Viktor Kharitonin also discussed production capability of the vaccine and pointed to the successful completion of the transfer of laboratory technology, scaled and fine-tuned the manufacturing technology abroad.

“It should be specifically pointed out that, thanks to our cooperation with the Russian Direct Investment Fund, we have started supplying the vaccine to foreign markets. We have already transferred the production technology to Kazakhstan and Belarus and continue working with other countries, including India and Italy. In Italy, Sputnik V was highly praised by both scientists and our colleagues from pharmaceutical companies,” added Kharitonin.

Taking his turn, Chairman of the Board of the R-Pharm Group Alexei Repik talked about efforts that are currently focused on the creation and manufacturing of new forms of the vaccine that will be easier to use and also to transport. He noted that it will increase the attractiveness of the vaccines on foreign markets, including countries with a hot climate: the Middle East, Africa and Latin America.

“Our factory is now producing the first registration batches of a promising lyophilic form of the vaccine created by our experts. It has proved stable at temperatures between +2 and +8 C. We are now studying its stability at room temperature. There are grounds to believe that we will succeed. This form will allow us to make the vaccine available in hard-to-reach regions of the country, which is especially important ahead of the spring and summer period,” informed Alexei Repik.

Director of the Gamaleya National Research Centre for Epidemiology and Microbiology Alexander Gintsburg also highlighted a few aspects of the vaccine production and about documents for registration. According to him, the Gamaleya Research Centre also addresses the problem of expanding the production of the Sputnik Light vaccine.

In addition, as the holder of the registration certificate, the Centre assumes all responsibility for quality control of this vaccine at all enterprises where it is manufactured in this country and abroad.

Moreover, the Centre is directly involved in launching contractual production that is mostly organised by the Russian Direct Investment Fund. The Centre has prepared the entire package of documents for registering the Sputnik Light vaccine in 55 countries. Considering that each country has its own regulatory system, this is not a fixed package of documents that will apply everywhere, therefore it has to adapt it to every country’s regulatory system.

He further spoke about The Lancet, a highly prestigious and popular medical journal, that published two articles on the results of scientific data and clinical trials. This provides important scientific evidence proving the vaccine’s efficacy, this has completely eliminated the Western academic community’ scepticism regarding the vaccines’ quality and efficacy.

Alexander Gintsburg explained a little about children’s vaccination. According to him, children must be divided into several age groups. Russian experts and specialists in paediatric immunology are working in this direction. He said that a vaccine has been developed, patented, and are currently launching clinical trials of Sputnik V’s intranasal form. This is a very gentle and patient-friendly form of vaccination for children, especially little children, who can be traumatised when they see a syringe or when possible side effects arise. The first experiments show that the intranasal form is completely free from any side effects.

CEO of the Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF) Kirill Dmitriev stressed patent protection and about protecting intellectual rights for Russian made vaccines and other medical products. “Our patent protection is very strong. We submitted applications early on, much earlier than other countries, and thus got a headstart. Accordingly, the Gamaleya Institute owns the innovations that are available even at these foreign sites, which include over 20 partner companies in 10 countries,” he told the meeting.

On foreign cooperation, “Mr President, I would like to thank you, because it was your idea to build production partnerships with various countries, and 20 manufacturers from over 10 countries responded. For them, it’s about vaccine safety and independence, and Russia was the only country to have come up with this offer. Thank you very much. They are very grateful to you for this,” Kirill Dmitriev said in appreciation.

Director General of the Vektor State Research Centre of Virology and Biotechnology Rinat Maksyutov discussed various research operations. Vektor is the only WHO COVID-19 reference laboratory in Russia. It not only conducts the entire range of viral studies of the novel coronavirus, but is also monitoring its genetic mutations across the country on a regular basis.

“By now, we have found over 5,300 genetic variations across the genome. In the overwhelming number of cases, the replacement does not change the epidemiological characteristics of the virus. At the same time, we have also found over 50 variations of the British strain, three cases of the South African strain and over 20 unique variations of the virus that must be thoroughly studied,” he said.

According to Rinat Maksyutov, the Research Centre Vektor is studying these variations of the virus in accordance with a special algorithm. “We are studying the virus’s stability on various surfaces; we are also using unique equipment, which has no analogues throughout the world, to study the ability of the virus to be transmitted between living organisms. We have found that the British strain of the novel coronavirus can be effectively neutralised by serum taken from those who had COVID and those vaccinated with Sputnik V or EpiVacCorona,” he told the meeting.

Director General of the Chumakov Federal Scientific Centre for the Research and Development of Immune and Biological Products (Russian Academy of Sciences) Aidar Ishmukhametov spoke about their engagement and involvement in research and production of medical products, tracing its roots to the Soviet Union.

The Chumakov Centre is one of the oldest facilities in the Russian Federation and the oldest vaccine developer in Russia. That in the 1960s, this centre’s achievements helped the country deal with polio. The centre back then developed a unique vaccine that supplied to the entire world, including the United States, Europe, Japan and many other countries. In fact, now this facility, the Institute of Poliomyelitis, is well-known around the world.

It is continuing this tradition. As of today, it has developed and produced five vaccines, including for tick-borne encephalitis, rabies and the yellow fever vaccine that is supplied to almost 50 countries, which is perhaps Russia’s biggest export in the pharmaceutical industry.

This type of organisation that has a research and development facility at its core that can outline the task and release a certain number of batches of the vaccine consisting of tens of millions [of doses], on one hand, and well-coordinated work with research institutes and the search for partners, on the other hand, is a very efficient model.

“We did not intend to work exclusively on the coronavirus vaccine. It was important to us to maintain the same production volume and supply vaccines according to the national vaccination calendar as well as deliver on the exports. So we needed to fit this new objective into our existing model. We inherited this research and development facility from the Soviet Union where it was a leader in this industry, and we are developing it,” he underlined the importance of his institution at the meeting.

CEO of the National Immunobiological Company, Rostec State Corporation, Andrei Zagorsky, however, noted that vaccine production is growing steadily. He highlighted the question of warehousing (storage), freezer facility and shipping to the regions. This is carried out in close cooperation with the manufacturing sites, as well as cargo recipients in the regions. These tasks are fulfilled on schedule, he said.

“We monitor the entire production process, especially the temperature, all the way from production, transport, acceptance to a warehouse, storage at the warehouse, to shipment to a recipient region. All products are transported in thermal containers, which can keep temperatures at 18 degrees below zero Celsius for about five days,” he added, speaking at the meeting.

Deputy Prime Minister Tatyana Golikova concluded with high appreciation. The meeting ended with clear understanding in what direction should be moving to overcoming the coronavirus pandemic and at the same time, extend assistance to foreign countries that are in need. She, however, reiterated that, in a fairly short time, despite the difficulties and amid the challenging pandemic of 2020, all her colleagues have indeed accomplished something that seemed almost impossible, worked 24/7 and made Russia the leader in the production and use of vaccines, primarily, for the public in Russia.

MD Africa Editor Kester Kenn Klomegah is an independent researcher and writer on African affairs in the EurAsian region and former Soviet republics. He wrote previously for African Press Agency, African Executive and Inter Press Service. Earlier, he had worked for The Moscow Times, a reputable English newspaper. Klomegah taught part-time at the Moscow Institute of Modern Journalism. He studied international journalism and mass communication, and later spent a year at the Moscow State Institute of International Relations. He co-authored a book “AIDS/HIV and Men: Taking Risk or Taking Responsibility” published by the London-based Panos Institute. In 2004 and again in 2009, he won the Golden Word Prize for a series of analytical articles on Russia's economic cooperation with African countries.

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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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