The Changing Reality and Lagging Mentality

7 july 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: The world system is in motion, and relations between countries are changing rapidly, as evidenced by the current developments in the post-Soviet space.

A mere two years ago it seemed that the territory of the former Soviet Union was an arena of a geopolitical battle between the great powers fighting for the choicest “trophies.” Now everything is different. Post-Soviet states are facing serious economic and political problems, but the world’s leading players are immersed in difficulties of their own and display little interest in what is going on there. Russia has received an opportunity to demonstrate its capacity for leadership, although it is unclear yet whether it is ready for this.

The tragic events in Kyrgyzstan in the spring and summer of 2010 have brought about the need for Moscow’s role as a political patron and guarantor of security, but Russia lacks the required instruments. Alexander Lukin, who visited Kyrgyzstan in May, that is, before riots erupted in the south of the country, discusses what Russia could do to stabilize the situation there. He says the violence in Kyrgyzstan makes one think of how viable the post-Soviet countries are and how they can grow stronger.

Nikolai Silayev notes changes in Russia’s strategy towards neighboring countries. Last spring, Moscow took several steps to reset strained relations with them. A friendlier environment along the perimeter of Russia’s borders would help it achieve its foreign-policy goals, but the reconciliation is wobbly yet.

One reason behind the particularly acute conflicts of recent years is different interpretations of recent history. Alexei Miller writes about the phenomenon of “history politics” as an instrument for building the national identity of post-Communist states. Alexander Barsenkov invites historians to give an objective evaluation of Stalin’s role in Russian history, which is essential for obtaining an adequate vision of the past. Arkady Moshes analyzes why Belarus – formally Russia’s closest ally which, unlike other post-Soviet states, shares its views on history – has become one of the harshest opponents of Moscow.

The “resetting” of Russian-U.S. relations, crowned with an arms control agreement and Moscow’s support of sanctions against Iran, is the event of the year. Victor Kremenyuk discusses the present warming in relations between Russia and the U.S. in the context of the history of their mutual ties, which has taken many sharp turns over the last few decades. Sergei Kortunov analyzes in detail the advantages and shortcomings of the New START Treaty. Moscow and Washington are yet to address the pressing problem of working out a strategic stability model, which must replace the Cold War principles. For now, these principles remain in force, despite the dramatic changes across the world.

Sergei Karaganov strongly rejects the logic of complete nuclear disarmament, advocated by the proponents of a “nuclear zero.” The idea of ridding the world of nuclear weapons is not just senseless, he argues; it is dangerous, as it may deprive the world of the only instrument that deters militancy. Russia will never give up its nuclear potential, the author says. Ulrich Kuhn proposes reviving discussions about conventional arms control in Europe and extending the reduction process to tactical nuclear weapons, even though raising the subject of twenty years ago may reanimate – at least, at the level of discourse – many of the contradictions of the bygone era.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov emphasizes the need for a creative approach to the international situation. He outlines his vision of a new partnership between Russia and the West, in which they may find joint answers to the multiplying challenges of the modern age. The minister proposes, in particular, establishing modernization alliances with advanced countries.

The modernization issue is the topic of several more articles. Vladimir Yevtushenkov warns against overindulgence in government mega-projects under the slogan of modernization, and calls for assisting Russian businesses that work on innovations on their own. Boris Porfiryev writes about the role of new technologies that are developed in the context of efforts to combat climate change. The author believes that it is this industry that is becoming a sphere of an innovative breakthrough in the world. Tatyana Romanova analyzes changes in the approach of the European Union, the main partner in modernization projects and the main consumer of Russian energy resources, to energy cooperation with Moscow.

Our next issue will continue to discuss modernization in Russia, will analyze changes taking place in the post-Soviet space and around it, and will focus on the prospects for Asia’s development.

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