Original by Sergey Karaganov published by globalaffairs.ru; excerpt translation by J.Hawk
The recently achieved foreign policy successes, the strengthening of Russia’s strategic position and her security, Russia’s return to the status of first-rank great power, which are sought by the majority of Russian elites and masses, allow, while both new and old challenges, including the long-term confrontation with the West–urgently demand the state’s attention to be shifted to the task of internal economic development, and the preservation and development of human capital.” This is the main conclusion of the report titled “Strategy XXI. Russian Foreign Policy: late 2010s–early 2020s”, prepared by a team of experts from the Council on Foreign and Defense Policy. Lenta.ru discussed some of the theses advanced by this document with its editor, the Dean of the World Politics and Economy department at the National Research University Higher School of Economics, Sergey Karaganov.
–Why was there a need to write Strategy XXI? Does Russia lack a foreign strategy? Or is it inadequate?
–The foreign strategy will now be rewritten because the old one became outdated. Our report was prepared by authors who don’t occupy official positions (those who do did so as private individuals) and is intended to give a push in the direction of forming a new state foreign policy strategy. On the one hand, we were compelled to write these theses because the world is rapidly changing, there are few people who understand what’s happening, and there is a massive flood of lies and disinformation. So mistakes can be made. We hope our document will avert them and facilitate a creative discussion in Russia–not, obviously, who the traitors are and who aren’t, but about what’s really happening and what is to be done. Both USSR, and the West, and Russia, allowed many mistakes because they did not hold such discussions.
–You said that today few understand global processes. This applies to the professionals, and especially ordinary people. Here’s an example: when you or some of your colleagues said that Russian foreign policy in recent years was highly successful, it outrages many. “How’s that? We got into a quarrel with the West, we are isolated, our turn to the East had stalled! That’s success?” How would you answer them?
–People read things, acquire information, but on the whole can’t process it properly. Only professionals can do it. Moreover, much of the information that’s being dumped on ordinary people are either lies or half-truths. It’s laughable to hear about Russia’s isolation! Yes, relations with the West have worsened and yes, the West wants to isolate us. But it turned out exactly the other way. We have poor relations with Western institutions, but in every other respect we are more active. So many people want to talk to me under these conditions of “isolations” that I’m about to go crazy!
Now, about our victories. We have been retreating for a long time, hoping the West will love us for it. But that did not happen. It eventually came to the possibility of Ukraine being drawn into Western alliances, including military ones, which for us would have been casus belli, no two ways about it. Therefore Russia stopped retreating and finally struck. Naturally, the West was angered by it, all the more so since it suffered many setbacks over the last decade and wanted to take a revanche. That’s our current situation. But it’s much better than what we had before. We are teaching our Western colleagues to behave decently and respect our interests. This process is yielding results. Just look what was happening 18 months ago, compared to now, both in terms of actual contacts and of realpolitik.
Concerning China, we are drawing closer, though not as quickly as we’d want. But we do sometimes think this is a case of a gin from a bottle granting three wishes. In reality, it takes hard and prolonged effort–only then will there be results. Indeed, we already have them. 5-6 years ago, 56% of Russia’s foreign trade was with Europe, now it’s only 46%. Which means Asia’s share has grown by 10%. That’s a healthier balance of foreign economic relations. And what’s surprising in that the Chinese don’t want to invest in Russia? If we don’t want to address our economic development ourselves, why should others save us? Only those people believed that China will shower us with money who also thought the West would help us. The Chinese, naturally, have a far more positive and respectful attitude toward Russia, but they want to see concrete projects and a developed economy, which so far we don’t have.
–Russia traditionally advocates respecting international law. We, by pointing out the West’s violations, including the bombing of Yugoslavia, retained the moral high ground. Is that approach still appropriate after Crimea’s reunification? The West officially calls it annexation.
–One can interpret the Crimean unification in many ways. But here’s what’s important. USSR maintained a policy of legitimism during its final decades. Russia had done likewise for the last 20 years, advocating non-intervention in internal politics and so forth. But then we decided: “Since you are not playing by the rules, we’ll show you the consequences. We will also violate these rules, but we’ll do it more intelligently and firmly.” I think that’s an appropriate reaction to what the West had been doing for the last 20 years, when it had a free hand. For example, the bombardment of Yugoslavia, which had a democratically elected government–that was a crime deserving a Nuremberg. Can we return to a higher level of respect for international law? Yes, it’s possible. It would be good if Russia were to call on everyone to do so. Will it happen? I don’t know.
–Can Russia accept the role of a “security provider”, as your text proposes, considering that many countries fear us?
–Everyone is afraid of everyone else. We are so brave, but there are plenty of people here who fear China or NATO. NATO, incidentally, will continue to do God knows what, like it did in Libya or Yugoslavia, unless it has a gun held to its knee. Therefore we can become security providers, particularly in Central Asia, by supporting existing regimes and striking at radicals. And, of course, no matter how harsh it may sound, now that we have stopped NATO expansion with a blow of our fist, we did in fact operate as a security provider, since otherwise we’d have a big war in Europe. Ukraine’s entry into NATO would have provoked such a conflict, guaranteed.
–There hasn’t been a big war due to the deterring power of nuclear weapons. Will that antidote continue being effective?
–I am very worried that antidote is wearing out. I am even more worried that nuclear weapons may be used somewhere, and then people will realize it’s not the end of the world. The whole military-political culture that came into being after WW2 is based on non-use of nuclear weapons due to guaranteed escalation. But if today someone uses them and there’s no escalation, it will deal a massive blow to the whole system of international security. Therefore one should do everything possible to avert nuclear weapons use, which means minimizing the use of other weapons which might trigger the escalation.
Moreover, in spite of all the shouts and protests, nuclear weapons continue to spread. In addition to the five official nuclear club members, they are possessed by India, Pakistan, North Korea, and Israel. Iran’s program was stopped, but I don’t know if forever.
–In your theses, you speak about EU’s ineffectiveness. What is wrong with it, what explains its many failures?
–The current European political system was formed in conditions of absence of any major threats or shocks. They lost the ability to use their brains and make strategic decisions. Behind the scenes, Europeans themselves acknowledge it. Europe is a victim of own success–its level of democracy prevents it from reacting appropriately to today’s threats.
–Europe turned out to be in greenhouse conditions, since its security was provided by the US. But what awaits the US? Do you believe in Trump’s victory?
–Once upon a time I was a professional americanist and excelled at it by never trying to predict the outcome of a presidential election. That saved me a lot of time. No matter who is elected, America’s future course is obvious. Trump, of course, can bring some merry uncertainty, but Hillary also is capable of it. US elite is split as never before. One can be of different minds toward the US, and even admire its economy or culture. But right now America is becoming more dangerous. Therefore our strategic conclusion is this: in the long term, one should pursue friendship with the US, but in the meantime the US has to be contained as firmly as possible, because right now the Americans are still adapting to the conditions of the changing world, and nobody knows what to expect of them.