Alexei Peskov conducts an interview with Sergey Karaganov – an expert on international relations, honorary chairman of the presidium of the Council for Foreign and Defense Policy of the Russian Federation, Chairman of the Editorial Board of the journal “Russia in Global Politics”, Dean of the Faculty of world politics and economy of the Higher school of Economics in Moscow.
Appeared at A-specto, translated by Borislav exclusively for SouthFront
What is the root of the current crisis in relations between Russia and the West?
The crisis in relations is the result of several factors. The first lies in the fact that the West, which assumed it was victorious in the 90s, thought that would be forever. But in the first decade of the XXI century the West sharply began losing – primarily because of mistakes made with the interventions in Iraq, Libya and the invasion of Afghanistan. All these ended in defeat for the West. As of 2008-2009, the ineffectiveness of the recipes they offered to solve the world’s problems became clear. Then followed the collapse of the West’s positions, which few people understood – collapse of moral, political, economic, and military positions … Let’s just imagine what happened: America invested trillions of dollars in armaments, it seemed to have superiority all around the world, but when it unleashed its army, it lost all wars. It turns out that all these huge investments have been devalued. Their superiority lost value.
I would say that an important factor is also the strengthening of other countries – primarily China and India, which were rising before, but in recent years their successes became far more noticeable and significant.
The third factor is Russia. It tried somehow to appeal to the West, to pacify it, to fit in with its policies, but then it realized how meaningless these attempts are and ceased to make them. This behavior of Russia was received in an extremely painful manner from the West amid the economic, military and political decline of Western countries. As in the West there remained the feeling that Russia is economically weak and can not withstand such shocks, since the USSR couldn’t either, and so Russia became the subject of some “educative action.”
What is the ultimate goal of the West’s fight with Russia?
Many analysts are confident that America sets some kind of goals and acts in accordance with them. If this is true, it is only to a very small degree. One explanation for today’s American policy is the split of the ruling class in the US and monstrous fall of the level of competence of those who set the course of policy. If they said that in Iraq they are fighting to establish democracy, many people were sure that the war is conducted to control oil, but I see here a manifestation of monstrous incompetence of the ruling class. To throw in the armed forces in an absolutely pointless meat grinder, to bear political defeat and with it destroy hundreds of thousands of people – this is the peak of irresponsibility and stupidity.
Ambitions take precedence over reason?
Ambitions plus unwillingness to listen to reasonable and responsible elites – domestic and international. Many Russians and Americans warned the US administration to not invade Iraq. But they did not hear them. Moreover, we warned – do not bother with a ground operation in Afghanistan, defeat is waiting for you. They ignored us. It is difficult to imagine how they lead such a fruitless foreign policy, in the presence of such highly intellectual elite in the country. The situation may be explained by the schism and ideology of the elites. The US is now dominated by two groups – the neoconservatives (the religious right) and the opposing them liberal interventionists. And they both want to spread the American way of life around the world, but with different methods. The most important thing is that they are both inadequate.
There are representatives of these two extreme sides in the current presidential race, while the elite who adhere to the patriotic point of view, but understand how the modern world works is overshadowed. The embodiment of this elite is Henry Kissinger, who we had the honor to meet at the Higher School of Economics. He is one of the few who at least to some extent is admitted in the media. Those who can be considered realistic, almost do not participate in today’s political discussions. There are ideological mediocrities in command. Such things have happened in our country and in other countries where ideology in politics takes precedence over reason.
At the time of the Cold War, America successfully subjugated the world with McDonald’s, jeans, rock and roll, Hollywood action movies … If the goal is to force the world to its own lifestyle, why was it necessary to change the weapons?
The expansion of the ideological influence over other countries implies acceptance of a favorable to the US economic policy. The purpose of the ideological war is not only a moral victory, but other much more tangible things. Let us say that the passing of Eastern European countries in the sphere of influence of Western Europe gave her a new economic boost at a time in which it was stagnant.
There’s also another point, which is not understood by all: the ideological expansion stalled because of the rise of globalization. Its result became the economic boom of third parties over which the West has been unable to impose its will. It could do that when the Soviet Union did not intervene, focused only on protecting countries from its own camp. But now the world has become relatively uniform and has consequently amended the security system. The US can not attack China not only because of the Chinese nuclear weapons, but also because of the risk to start a war with Russia, because Russian interests will also be affected. The nuclear factor spread around the world and therefore countries have received a lot more sovereignty than they had during the Cold War. India, Iran, Malaysia, Israel, Thailand, Singapore – these are countries that conduct a more independent foreign policy with every passing year.
And with the growth of sovereignty it became clear that the traditional values in these countries are more important to its inhabitants than the values imported from outside. A processes of democratization started even in authoritarian countries where the impact of population on politics has become far more active. This population accepts jeans, but also wants traditional culture. This does not mean that the world has begun to refuse “McDonald’s” (by the way this is a terrible food) – the countries instead started to offer something of their own. And now these same Chinese are influencing the world with their own food much more than the American “fast-food”.
How can Russia respond? What is our “soft power ” with which we can win over the world?
Russia can offer the world its constructive advantages. For example, there is a huge demand for water and energy goods, with the production of which Siberia and the Far East can stand on their feet, but our elites resist – although much less now – the accelerated development of these regions. We must look at our history to realize who we are. We are the only country to destroy all empires, starting from that of Genghis Khan, who conquered half the world and managed China, then the Swedes who conquered half of Europe, then Napoleon, then Hitler.
We must realize that we are not a nation of merchants and manufacturers of shoes, because no matter how hard we try other things, our tanks turn out to be our best product. And we know how to fight and win. The world needs us because we can provide the most important commodity – security. And we must not forget that behind us is a great culture, which we do not develop right now, but which we can use to maintain our influence in the world.
We will conquer the world with the help of Tolstoy and Dostoevsky?
Why do we need to conquer the world? We want to live in a strong, rich and great country that all respect or at least fear a little bit. To develop economically, intellectually, to be proud that we are a winner state – we do not need more. But we should also get the world to find ” War and Peace ” for themselves, because anyone who reads this book will forever respect the Russians.
If we look at today’s relations between Russia and the United States with an analogy – in theater troupe, where all roles are distributed, but then suddenly someone from the reserve stock begins to claim the role of the hero-lover. Then the current hero is outraged and …
You need to understand that the current hero-lover is not scared of Russia, but of China. If China continues to grow at the present rate, in a few years it will become the number one force in the world in overall power. I’m not saying they will surpass America’s military power or GDP per capita, but its geopolitical influence will become number one. And the US does not like this trend.
It turns out that Russia is selected for public flogging as a warning to China?
To some extent – yes. Besides that our elites, unable or unwilling to develop our economy, are provoking pressure. In the West there’s the feeling that if it failed to finish off Russia in the times of the USSR, it will do so now. And the more they stagnate, the greater the enthusiasm to beat us. The reasons for the deterioration of Russian-Western relations should be sought in the internal structure of societies in the West. Anti-Russian sentiment in European elites have always been strong, but because of the crisis of the European project, they have noticeably intensified. The European Union reached its peak in the 90s, then the inflow of new markets in Eastern European countries propped it up, but now they are losing in large number of areas. The EU is doomed to degradation – hopefully that will not lead to collapse, because this is a very bad option for Russia. The European elites are looking for things that would help to stop the degradation processes. One of these things became the restoration of the image of the enemy. Let us remember: the European Union was founded on two pillars – of overcoming the consequences of the war, and opposition to communism. Both problems have been solved – so what comes next? Well, what – in 2010 they started with Russia and Putin. By 2013 the anti-Russian propaganda in Europe was overflowing everywhere, and now it has acquired phantasmagorical dimensions – Russia’s hand is seen in everything bad in the world.
And how the US and Europe loved us in the 90s… Bush sent us chicken legs when the shops were empty, they bamboozled us with second hand goods. What did they want in return?
In return, they wanted us to be like them and to follow them. And we wanted to look not like Europe of today, but the one that was in the 50s and in the years of our common great history. We wanted to be cultural Europeans, loyal to Christian ideals from which we were cut off for so many years, we wanted the Europe of Adenauer, Churchill and de Gaulle. But we arrived in a completely different Europe, that had rejected itself and now professed entirely different values. I hope that Europe will return to its previous ideals and then we will meet and will have something to talk about.
Let us remember also that in 90 years we did not talk much about sovereignty, we wanted to be liked. They pat us on the shoulder and we as a sign of appreciation were ready to give even what that was not worth giving. De facto, we accepted NATO expansion. The love began its end in the first years after 2000, thanks to the Khodorkovsky case, when it suddenly became clear that Russia has no plans to part with its oil and gas assets.
What is the biggest threat to us now?
The threat of war is now the biggest since the 60s. And it has been so for about eight years. I’m talking about the objective threat – a real war now nobody, thankfully, wants. The threat exists because of the accumulation of contradictions that have not been solved, due to the rapid change in the balance of power in the world, and because of that, many other elites, primarily Western, do not know how to get out of this situation. In such times, simple solutions seem attractive to them. Russia’s nuclear potential has so far withheld such simple solutions, but in the current mutual distrust a war can happen accidentally.
What happens in Russia with the reforms? All are “for”, everyone knows what in our country is wrong, but we do not see a single technologist say, “I know how to do it well .” And the external enemy comes for those who do not want to reform the economy …
Russia is run by two elite – the ones that emerged in the 90s and the elite of the decade after. Both elite are still not ready for reforms. We considered that the reason for this is that the majority of Russians over the past 10-12 years, lived well from this rent and want the continuation of the banquet. The anti Putin Coalition lived good off of the oil rent and the pro Putin one – even more so. The population also participated in the distribution of the income and so they recently lived much better than ever before in the history of Russia. All are waiting for these times to return by themselves. That is why, unfortunately, the issue of reform has not yet matured. All babble as usual, although the time to act is long overdue. When the issue matures, they will find the reform technologies, which exist already. Reforms should have begin as early as 2008-2009, when there was money and everything could have happened a lot more efficiently. But nobody wanted to take action, all liked the sweet life. However, a reform did take place and it was quite successful. This is the reform of the armed forces.
The average person can distinguish two reforms in the army – that of Anatoly Serdyukov (minister of defense from 2007 to 2012) and that of Sergei Shoigu (Minister of Defense from 2012 – present). One made a reorganization of units and universities, which caused a wave of indignation in the military, and the other put everything back in its place.
No, these were two stages of the same reform. Serdyukov, created nonsense in about 10% of his work – with the scientific and educational military institutions, but in general he quickly and firmly did what he was assigned. Everybody cursed him, he became the guy responsible for other people’s mistakes, but the bulk of the work on getting the army to its present state was done exactly by him. Shoigu has also done a lot, but the vast majority of the heaviest reform work was done precisely by his predecessor.
Why does the West believe that Putin is personally a concentration of evil? Is it believed that if he is removed from power, then magically everything will change? Their analysts are far from naive …
The demonization of Putin is caused by the fact that the West observes that behind Putin stands the majority of Russians. Even for our Western friends its difficult to say that Russia is the spawn of evil. They need Putin as a personified evil, precisely for themselves: to call upon a crusade against Russia is stupid in every way, but to say that they want to replace Putin – that somehow sounds better. “Putin has personally organized the refugees in Europe, he organized an upsurge of right-wing parties in the political arena on the continent, he is also behind the terrorist” – this is said by big politicians, not just journalists. The position is convenient, as to explain their failures and to consolidate against the common enemy, to focus the energy of consolidation inward because of their failed reforms. The result is predictable – there are no reforms, there is confrontation.
And why not leave all internal problems for themselves, so the major powers agree on a division of roles to manage the world together? Good and bad cop – there is a sense that we’ve seen this scheme in action in regards to Iran, North Korea …
That would be ideal, but we have to engage key players like China, India, Iran and one or two other countries. For now, that is impossible for the West. It tries to maintain its dominance, which it took in the 90s. There are minor tactical agreements. But in general we can not come to an agreement because of these deep trends that continue to evolve. Mostly due to the internal crisis in Europe. I think in a few years we can achieve mass scale negotiations with the United States and China because the American society is somehow stronger than the European and in the US the crisis is not as deep. We have to negotiate with Europe and should not separate with them. Culturally, we are part of them and they are part of us.
Do you feel that Russia began to take off, picked up speed, but pulled the wheel too early when we were still not ready?
It seems so. But we should note that sometime in 2010 we stopped accelerating. It was clear that with each year it will be more difficult to take off.
How does the question with our speed stand?
In regard to foreign policy things are proving successful thanks to brilliant diplomacy and vigorous military policy. But without strengthening the economy, even the most brilliant diplomacy and flawless military power, will only give tactical gains and nothing more. Yes, the situation for Russia is now much better than in the times of the decline of the Soviet Union. We don’t need to maintain socialism worldwide, we do not have to manage the union republics or to resist China, and our society is not united by dying communist ideology, but of national patriotism. So we have a fairly good position. But we can lose it in the bad Russian tradition of turning victory into defeat.