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: Aiming to spread democracy, the U.S. has meddled in foreign countries’ politics for decades. Russia just returned the favor.
When America won the Cold War, its democratic ideology of political openness triumphed. According to America’s liberal world order, the world is transparent and competitive, and no state’s affairs are a solely internal matter anymore.
But hypocritically, the U.S. hasn’t applied this philosophy to itself – it only applied it to countries that it wanted to democratize. It believed this philosophy should be used only on non-democratic regimes making a transition to a “normal” country ? and they must be open to the “right” outside influences. But as it turns out, the Kremlin can reverse-engineer America’s strategy of influencing foreign elections.
As Ivan Krastev, chairman of the Center for Liberal Strategies in Sofia, rightfully observed, Moscow is “trying to reconstruct and imitate what [it] believes the West is doing.” Recalling conversations he had with senior Russian politicians, Krastev said they commonly view “instability and destabilization” as the main rationale governing Western foreign policy. Putin lied to the world about Russia’s annexation of Crimea “because he expected to be called a liar; so he could answer, ‘Just like you! I am not breaking the rules; I am playing according to your rules,’” Krastev noted.
If the West can not only comment on foreign elections but actually actively support candidates ? as it did in Eastern European and post-Soviet countries, why can’t other countries do the same in the West?
Donald Trump’s election, despite the establishment’s strong opposition, is a symptom ? not the cause ? of the crisis of America’s political system. The establishment is straining every nerve to prove its worth, and the battle against Trump is going into high gear. It may take a dramatic turn in the coming months.
It appears that the U.S. was not prepared for the global leadership role that suddenly came its way after the disintegration of the Soviet Union. However, it got used to it and then didn’t want to lose it. This explains America’s own uncertainty and its willingness to blame external forces for its current predicament. This is true not only of America. Germany, ahead of important elections, and other European countries are using the same rhetoric to accuse Russia of meddling in their internal affairs rather than accepting their citizens’ genuine and homegrown admiration for right-wing candidates.
The attitude that the West in general and the U.S. in particular are demonstrating toward Russia is truly paradoxical. On the one hand, they regard Russia as a declining power that is trying in vain to alter the natural course of history. On the other hand, they portray it as an increasingly powerful and almost omnipotent enemy. Putin has become a global brand ? a symbol of an ideological and political alternative to the liberal world order. This should surely flatter the Russian leader, whose ambitions have never gone so far. He certainly did not like the order where the U.S. played the leading role, but his efforts were primarily about defending against the U.S.-led advance of liberal democracy.
The reason for Moscow’s affection for Trump is not his pro-Russian position or willingness to play up to Putin, as his opponents in America claim. In fact, their relationship may actually be quite complicated, especially since Trump has anti-Chinese and anti-Iranian agendas. But Trump symbolizes the rejection of the U.S. policy of changing the world and other countries. To Trump, U.S. greatness is not U.S. leadership or its ability to transform the world, but defending national interests in any place and at any time. This may produce some serious conflicts, including with Russia, but this position is more reasonable to Moscow than the previous agenda of democratization.
Russian-American relations will depend on the outcome of Trump’s battle with skeptics of Russia within the U.S. All other scenarios, including specific disagreements over the Middle East, Europe, Eurasia or elsewhere, will be handled either through attempts to work out some pragmatic consensus, as Trump seems willing to do so far, or through America’s renewed efforts to impose its own understanding of “the right side of history.”