On the Verge of Change Again

25 december 2010

Fyodor Lukyanov is Editor-in-Chief of Russia in Global Affairs, Chairman of the Presidium of the Council on Foreign and Defense Policy, and Research Director of the Valdai International Discussion Club.

Resume: Ten years ago, when the 1990s were coming to an end, many politicians were making plans for the future, trying to predict what the world would be like in 10 years.

Ten years ago, when the 1990s were coming to an end, many politicians were making plans for the future, trying to predict what the world would be like in 10 years. Now, at the end of the first decade of the new century, it is obvious that the development has gone the wrong way.

The 2000s have turned out to be stormy, dramatic and far more chaotic than anyone could have anticipated. Whereas the previous period was mostly a time of hope, the 2000s have proved to be an era of disillusionment and confusion. The future is obscure, and no one risks predicting today what international politics will be like in a decade. The world is in a state of transition, and the destination is unknown. Only one thing is clear: the coming years will determine a new balance of forces for the future and the fate of many countries, including Russia.

Vladislav Inozemtsev writes about another period in history, which was no less momentous. As a starting point, he takes the year 1985, when fundamental changes began in many parts of the world. The author’s conclusion is not encouraging: compared with many other countries that have made great progress since then, Russia has lost many of its positions and missed the opportunities that opened up before it. Alexey Shumkov also compares modern Russia with the former Soviet Union. While recognizing the country’s degradation in many areas, he nevertheless argues that the country has retained the potential for a breakthrough. The industrial base built in the Soviet times and civil liberties gained in the 1990s inspire hope for progress.

The outgoing decade has been very eventful as regards Russian-U.S. relations. It began with a fast rapprochement, continued with a sharp conflict and is ending with an attempt at a new reconciliation. The past years have revealed a conflict between the inertia of thinking that has actually retained the Cold War matrix, and the reality in which Russia and the United States are faced with various external challenges.

Mikhail Troitsky writes about a vicious circle in relations between Moscow and Washington. He argues that, for as long as Russia and the U.S. are in a state of mutual containment and, especially, nuclear deterrence, “resets” in their mutual relations will be only short-term periods of eased tensions. Meanwhile, the author writes, the developments of the 21st century make such a clinch an anachronism, distracting the parties from real threats to their security. Dmitry Suslov analyzes the same subject. He believes that the inertia in Russian-U.S. relations can be overcome, if the parties renounce maintaining nuclear parity.

New tasks are emerging for Russia’s foreign policy, and the 2010s will be a time of changes for Moscow’s positioning in the world. Maxim Minayev sees similarities between Russia and Britain: both countries have experienced a sharp decline in their international status and are now looking for ways to restore it in the new conditions. The authors of an independent conception of Russia’s Asia-Pacific Strategy call for Moscow’s gradual turn to the East. The rapid development of Asia, whose role and importance in world politics are growing fast, above all due to the rise of China, places a difficult dilemma before Moscow: How to strengthen its positions in the East, while retaining orientation towards Europe and its own European identity. Tetsuo Kotani analyzes why the new Japanese government’s policy has weakened the country’s positions in all areas – from relations with Moscow and Beijing to the shaken alliance with the United States. In the author’s view, China’s growth will sooner or later make Russia and Japan overcome the difficulties that now look unsolvable.

Alexander Oreshenkov highlights problems that Russia will inevitably face in the Arctic because of its inconsistency in implementing its own rights and interests. Generally speaking, the Extreme North is now becoming a hot political topic where many lines of tension between Europe, Asia and America intersect.

Georgy Filimonov raises the issue of instruments at Russia’s disposal and analyzes its soft power capability. Although this avenue of Moscow’s policy is still undeveloped, there is a sufficient potential for conducting it. First of all, this concerns a policy towards citizens of the former Soviet Union, who still feel that they are part of the former mother country. A Sociological Survey conducted by experts of the CIS Institute analyzes the situation in Central Asia, which has been the site of many events over the past decade. The Russians who live in that region are the first to be hit by all political and socio-economic cataclysms there.

Kirill Istomin writes about Russia’s policy of combating climate change, which will undoubtedly be a centerpiece issue in the coming decade. In the context of modernization, it may prove to be much more attractive to Moscow than before. Tatiana Romanova points out that climate problems have given rise to a new scientific discipline, namely political ecology. In the 21st century, it will be no less important than political economy was in the 20th century.

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