Original by Andrey Bortsov published by politrussia.com; translation by J.Hawk
Appearing at the XXIV Assembly of the Foreign and Defense Policy Council on April 9, 2016, Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov openly said the country was adopting a polycentric paradigm for its foreign policy:
“…one can observe the general trends, and we are trying to reflect them in our basic doctrinal documents, including the National Security Strategy, the Foreign Policy Concept whose new edition we are currently developing at President Putin’s behest.
Overall, we are looking at a lengthy transition period toward a polycentric architecture. We are not withdrawing that conclusion from the agenda but rather are seeing numerous confirmation that the trend is continuing. The transition to a polycentric conclusion in the longer term ought to rely on collaboration among the leading power centers in the interest of joint resolution of global problems. This view is shared by many countries although, as in earlier historical phases, there is no automaticity in international politics. There is no guarantee that the change will be for the better. Even in the event the multipolar world idea were to receive universal support, its implementation would be extremely difficult and complex, because it would imply the assumption of unprecedented level of responsibility, far-sightedness, and political will. But under circumstances in which the idea of establishing partnership on equal rights in order to ensure effective global governance is encountering, to put it plainly, resistance from our Western partners, the obstacles are even greater. As to what that’s the case, I’d prefer to explain without our friends from the media present.”
Naturally, Russia’s foreign policy has been consistently pursuing the polycentric foreign policy paradigm, but it was the first official and open statement of that change. Moreover, the reference to the need to discuss the issue without journalists present is very telling. Diplomacy is a refined art: one can already openly talk of a polycentric orientation, but one cannot say outright that it’s Washington that’s dead-set against it, because it really doesn’t want to lose the status of “the king of the mountain which is called democracy.”
Russia’s actions on numerous occasions have expressed its willingness and ability to protect national interests. Crimea’s return was the key event. Do you remember how the West reacted? It’s not even about the sanctions, but rather the US UN ambassador Samantha Power’s revealing reaction: when Russia used its veto power to block a resolution on non-recognition of the Crimea referendum, she literally threw herself at Vitaliy Churkin saying things like “Russia has no right to forget that it is not one of the winners but one of the losers,” “Moscow’s behavior is outrageous because Moscow is humiliating the US by blackmailing it with nuclear weapons.” It’s the hysterics that are telling, not the actual position.
Currently Russia is provoking hysteria in Washington quite regularly, it’s just that they are not shown on TV. We established order in Syria without a US permission slip, and did not get bogged down but left when the time was right. Can you imagine how doubly offended they must be?
It’s also revealing that when US politicians list threats to the bulwark of freedom, the list may change: terrorism, China, even ebola got mentioned once or twice, but Russia on the other hand is a stable member of that list. So now Sergey Lavrov officially declared: Russia will openly pursue the creation of a polycentric international political system, officially and with appropriate strategic documents. From now on actions aimed at Russia will also be actions aimed at the multipolar world concept. Once again, this is not news, but nothing like that was openly declared before.
Obama runs an ad for his country:
“The US holds many cards. We are an object of envy of the entire world. We have the most powerful armed forces on the planet. Our economy is currently stronger than any other developed economy.”
And earlier he said:
“We wouldn’t have been able to accomplish anything if we did not have the most powerful military in the world and did not frequently twist arms of countries which did not want to do that what we needed done, using a variety of economic, diplomatic, and sometimes military levers.”
But Financial Times is already admitting that:
“The West’s faith in the US democracy was badly damaged in recent years.”
The head of the Moscow Helsinki Group Lyudmila Alekseyeva even felt sorry for the US president:
“The US is currently in a difficult position, because it is rapidly losing its political exceptionalism.”
The “poles” of geopolitics already exist. It’s, naturally, the US. They are also trying to pressure Europe whose “national-liberation movement” is rapidly growing. Apart from Russia there’s also China which is even beginning to discuss the possibility of a military alliance with Russia.
The US still see its main enemy as China rather than Russia because of their habit to view economic power as the key factor. That’s a serious mistake. China, without abandoning its role as a geopolitical power center, traditionally has preferred to spread its influence using economic methods, but otherwise its culture is self-contained. But Russia is now all but officially proposing a new civilizational project which would serve as an alternative to the US-led one. If the US method is to force everyone to submit to force, Russia is establishing partnerships which take into considerations everyone’s interests.
If one were to describe the Russian civilizational project in two words, it would be justice and freedom.
If the Western project can be described as “if it is formally in accordance with the law, it is just,” for the Russians justice is more important than formality. The concept of justice is culture-dependent, not universal. To the Russian mind, justice implies respecting honest work for the sake of one’s people and country, while rejecting speculation, extortion, and self-aggrandizement, unlike in the Western model.
Another difference is this: a paternalistic state is considered just, with the state being sufficiently strong, unlike in the liberal interpretation. Even these two examples show the systemic differences between the Russian and Western projects.
Freedom is the second unique component. In the Western understanding, personal freedom implies viewing others as obstacles which get in the way of “absolute freedom”, whereas the Russian interpretation views others as assets which can allow the common purpose to be successfully pursued.
These two concepts make the Russian civilizational project different from others. Russians have never been considered part of either the East or the West. While there is a visible ethnic difference with the East, Europeans have never accepted the Russians due to these differences in mentalities. One likewise cannot view the effort to inculcate liberal values in Russia as successful: although most media broadcast liberal values, the masses have rejected them at the subconscious level.
Russia requires an independent civilizational project, without the alien liberal civilzational model, an independent development model built on justice and freedom, a social community based on mutual help and cooperation rather than an atomistic one. This is what the West is trying to prevent: as long as foreign values are imposed on Russia, it can be robbed and weakened as an international actor. When it has an independent path of development, the global balance of power shifts against the West.
Therefore it’s very encouraging to see the orientation in favor of multipolarity being reflected in the key strategic documents. Nevertheless, one must remember that one has to establish order not only in foreign but also in domestic policy. That’s naturally a topic for another article, but I will cite Fyodor Lukyanov, the Presidium Chair of the Foreign and Defense Policy Council:
“Our foreign and defense policy right now has achieved the highest level of professional mastery. We didn’t have that even five years ago. But all of that could be undermined by Russia’s economic weakness. Not even the most professional diplomats could compensate for the absence of a cohesive economic policy.”