15.06.2008
A Time to Cast Stones
№2 2008 April/June
Timofey V. Bordachev

Ph.D. (Political Science)
National Research University–Higher School of Economics (HSE), Moscow, Russia, 
Faculty of World Economy and International Affairs,
Associate Professor;
Centre for Comprehensive European and International Studies (CCEIS)
Academic Supervisor

Аffiliation

SPIN RSCI: 6872-5326
ORCID: 0000-0003-3267-0335
ResearcherID: E-9365-2014
Scopus AuthorID: 56322540000

Contacts

Tel: +7(495) 772-9590 *22186
E-mail: [email protected]
Address: Office 427, Bldg.1, Malaya Ordynka Str. 17, Moscow 119017, Russia

Fyodor A. Lukyanov

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 Discussion Club. Research Professor, Faculty of World Economy and International Affairs, National Research University Higher School of Economics, Moscow.

Contacts

Tel: +7 (495) 980-7353
[email protected]

Foreign policy is apparently one of the
most colorful and widely discussed aspects of Vladimir Putin’s two
terms as Russian president. Regardless of any subjective
assessments of the course that he set in 2000-2008, everyone
acknowledges that a qualitative change has taken place in the
country’s international positions during his presidency. Russia’s
activity has intensified and its presence in the international
arena has become much more noticeable.

It is hardly possible to analyze
Russia’s foreign policy at the beginning of this century in
isolation from the general tendencies of international relations.
These tendencies set the frame and conditions – very stringent at
times – for a country’s foreign policy. The international system
functions along principles that are mostly unchangeable, but it
enwraps countries in an atmosphere of tougher or milder competition
and sets the interests of one country against the other. It
displays dynamic diversity and constantly puts countries in the
face of ever more hitherto unseen challenges. Producing a reaction
to them is a method of survival for a sovereign state, and these
reactions often determine the participants’ internal development
and the style of their conduct at the international
level.

The foreign policy actions that the
Kremlin took between 2000 and 2008 show up in a different light if
they are placed in a global context and are not viewed from the
traditional viewpoint of relationships between Russia and separate
international partners.

An opinion poll done at the BBC’s
request in December 2007 showed that almost half of the respondents
(45 percent) in G7 countries and 47 percent of those polled in
another 30 countries had a favorable assessment of Putin’s
influence on relations between Russia and the rest of the world.
Unfavorable assessments were made by 40 percent and 28 percent of
respondents respectively. The same poll taken in Russia revealed an
overwhelming endorsement of the president’s foreign policy, with 86
percent supporting it and only four percent objecting to
it.

Assessments of the impact that Putin’s
presidency has had on global peace and security reveal a still
greater difference, as 47 percent of those polled in the G7 summed
it up as bad, compared to 38 percent who thought the opposite. The
corresponding indicators in the 30 other countries stood at 43 and
33 percent. As for Russia, 76 percent of the respondents here
praised the Kremlin’s role and only four percent called it
negative.

A poll taken by the Levada Center in
January 2008 showed that 60 percent of Russians believe that the
country has been following a rational course in the international
arena (compared to 41 percent in 2005), while the percentage of
those who think that Russia’s policy is confined to reacting to
sudden circumstances has dropped to 21 percent from 40 percent over
the past three years. Encouraging indicators grew sharply over the
twelve months from January 2007-January 2008.

Sociology registers fluctuations in
public opinion, while the mass media seeks to shape it. Assessments
of Putin’s foreign policy heritage that have been expressed in
public are more often than not very emotional and over-ideologized.
Everyone admits that at the beginning of the new century the
Kremlin veered off the road that Russia had started down after the
collapse of the Soviet Union. Some observers are happy with that,
while others predict a rebirth of the ‘Evil Empire.’

The disappearance of the bipolar system
meant the emergence of broad prospects for the side that had won
the ideological fight. But in spite of wide-ranging ambitions, the
major international players proved unable to stabilize the
situation after 1991 and let the system develop along its own
rules.

The only thing that the most advanced
layer of humankind was able to accomplish over the decade and a
half that has elapsed since the end of the Cold War was to spread
the European Union’s and NATO’s realm over a dozen or so countries
that did not play key roles in international politics; to drive
both organizations into a profound identity crisis; and to become
mired in the muscle-ridden democratization of the ‘Greater Middle
East.’ Now everyone is free to search for the sources of building
up own strength independently.

Russia’s gradual but irreversible
return to the global economy and politics opened up new
opportunities – and simultaneously set new requirements and
structural restrictions to the national foreign policy. Finally,
the nature of Russia’s activity after 2000 and especially after
2003 was determined by the dynamics of its own economic and
political development.

Russia emerged a full-fledged player in
global politics in the first years of this century and displayed a
conduct completely proportionate to that politics.

ENTERING A ZONE OF
TURBULENCE

There were two factors that determined
the content of Russian foreign policy in the period of 2000-2008 in
practical terms.

First, internal development
trends mostly forced the government to focus on a search for
answers to the newest challenges.

Second, the general condition
of the international system, which has hit the billiard balls of
the interests of major world countries against one another more and
more forcefully. The broad spread of anarchy is not a new
historical phenomenon at all, but unlike in previous historical
eras, the disappearance of clear international rules, which is
taking place right in front of our eyes, has been magnified by
objectively broadening economic interdependence.

Signs increasingly appeared in the
first years of the century that the international system was
entering a “zone of turbulence.” By way of capitalizing on this
metaphor, which the U.S. political scholar Leon Aron used to
describe Russia-U.S. relationship, one can say that the U.S.-led
coalition’s invasion of Iraq in March 2003 was the biggest “air
bump” of them all. This action, which ran counter to international
law and the logic of rational behavior as well, made it clear as
day that one could hardly count on the emergence of a more or less
stable world order.

In full correlation with the quality of
the international environment, Russia assimilated a build-up of its
own relative strength as a principle of foreign policy to an
ever-growing degree. One should especially consider the moral and
physical resources for this, which Moscow had accumulated by the
middle of this decade. This turn of events inevitably bred
confrontational elements in the country’s conduct, especially
noticeable in the regions and spheres of activity where it still
had competitive advantages – in the energy sector, in governing the
crucial institutions of international security, and in the
territory of the former Soviet Union.

Moscow tried moving as forward as
possible in all areas accessible for expansion. It also adopted a
new common practice of dropping the dogmatic veneration of the
principles it had formerly accepted. Since Moscow was not
restricted by the frameworks of military and political blocs with
Europe or the U.S., the intensification of its foreign policy was
forced to take the form of saber rattling and ostentatious
innuendoes against the North-Atlantic vis-à-vis.

At the same time, Russia could not
ignore a growing mutual penetration in the economy and culture. As
it tried to cope with a huge mass of opportunities brought up by
globalization and to keep aftermaths of the latter under control,
the Russian government copied much from its partners in the West
and the East. The concentration of economic instruments of foreign
policy under the direct or tentative control of the state came as a
reaction to their growing role in international politics and
broader global processes of reorganizing private-state
relations.

Involvement in those processes became
unavoidable for Russia as it switched over to a market economic
model and as its openness to the world kept growing. Amid the
rather messy international environment, it was hardly worthwhile to
expect support and empathy from partners. The state was able to tap
answers to some of the challenges of globalization inside the
country – and it bumped into a structural requirement to spread
this practice to areas outside its political borders. This
immediately generated contradictions with other parties to
international relations.

This is quite possibly why Russian
foreign policy has become hyperactive rather than successful in the
literal sense in recent years. Furthermore, the state has
demonstrated a lack of readiness to use ‘soft power’ in competitive
struggle – cross-border or completely nongovernmental instruments,
which no one knew about at the dawn of the 1990s when the
foundations of Russia’s new statehood were in the inception
phase.

Judging from the platforms of the main
U.S. presidential candidates, there are no signs that the world is
going to become any more stable in the years to come. Washington is
not changing its orientation toward securing global leadership,
while the external conditions for this have worsened and the U.S.
is past the peak of its opportunities. It is equally questionable –
and in saying this we draw on the public statements and actions of
Old World politicians – that countries will quickly learn to
control cross-border processes efficaciously and without damaging
their own basic functions. It is possible to stabilize separate
regions and sectors of the economy (although the success in this
sphere is still moderate enough), but the pot of world politics
will continue to simmer for an indefinite period ahead.

Thus a transition from the Cold War
model to a new status quo of some kind – the character of which is
yet to become clear – continues, and in this situation it would be
risky for the Russian state to begin to “gather stones together” in
an attempt to build a new system of relations with its outside
partners. There is a great risk of being peppered with stones
thrown by those who still continue to toss them. It is important,
however, to know when it is the right time to start gathering
stones together.

RUSSIA AND THE UNGOVERNABLE
WORLD

In each specific situation one or more
group of countries in the international arena plays a decisive role
that either helps to stabilize the situation or jolts it. But by
and large, international processes are uncontrollable. Unlike in
previous historical periods, neither separate countries nor
‘concerts of powers’ (calls for their revival were often heard in
the 1990s and the early 2000s) have the ability to act as
conductors on the global scale.

Implementing the New Global Order
project had become impossible by the beginning of the new
millennium even within the limits of a Greater Europe – widely
viewed as the territory from the Atlantic Ocean to Vladivostok and
from Svalbard to Mount Ararat. Russia and Ukraine – two crucial
elements of the European security system – found themselves outside
the framework of NATO and the European Union, the international
institutions to which Western Europe and North America attached key
significance. As a result, the scale of their expansion, which some
experts, including Charles Kupchan, described as a unique
opportunity to stabilize a new quality of the international system
after 1991, appeared to be insufficient for solving such a
momentous task. NATO and the EU engulfed countries whose influence
on the system of international relations was indecisive at
best.

The situation was further aggravated by
the impossibility of making the UN a center of global power. The UN
was founded in conditions of tough confrontation between two poles
of power and had the goal of coordinating national interests in
fairly simple and clear conditions. Now it cannot be readjusted to
meet the demands of either an imperial or a multipolar world. The
UN’s life as an institution of global political governance is
clearly rolling toward an end, although this fact will not affect
its future existence as a cluster of many useful specialized
international agencies.

The attempts to impose a ‘soft’ model
of hegemonistic stability in the form of the so-called ‘unipolar
world’ where the U.S. and NATO would assume global responsibilities
produced equally meager results. It turned out to be impossible to
build the imperial order that many dreamed of throughout the 1990s
and the early 2000s. The current world has about 200 social
entities and some five billion inhabitants, and even the only
remaining superpower does not have the ability to maintain order in
all of the corners of the empire.

A lack of ability to launch offensives
by one of the sides immediately leads to growing pressures –
forcible or peaceful – from others. As a result, as Thierry de
Montbrial indicates, the U.S. – a potential hegemon – continues to
lose its superiority, all the more so that new players are entering
the international arena.

The entire period of 2000-2008 is
evidence of a growth in pressure coming out of China – one more key
player that is building up its economic and, partly, military
power. Beijing has not shown any interest in joining communities of
nations, in which membership could hurt the opportunities for
China’s own sovereign course. Meanwhile, the latter course has the
exclusive goal of accumulating power and influence on the global
stage.

China’s unrelenting persistence
produces a great impression on other parties in international
relations, and this has become a factor that “measures the
condition” of the international environment, especially if one
considers China’s size in the world’s economic and financial
sectors. And even if Beijing is not planning to start taking
explicitly aggressive actions, the swelling of its military power
and formation of a zone of political and economic dominance makes
one suspect that China is preparing itself militarily.

Possible responses to the “Chinese
challenge” (frequently overstated) range from full-scale deterrence
to engaging it in various structures to coordinate interests. For
example, the George W. Bush administration initially took a tough
stance against Beijing, then quickly mitigated its approach. One
way or another, the very growth of China’s ambitions in various
parts of the world has added more heat to the already glowing
atmosphere of general competition.

A cautious rapprochement with the
Celestial Empire, which Moscow had turned into an element of its
foreign policy by the middle of this decade, was inevitable as the
Kremlin could not afford to distance itself from a neighbor as
strong and potent as China. Yet all attempts to become the leader
in that dialog – and Russia will scarcely agree to a non-leading
role in Asia – have so far been rejected politely, while China’s
“friendly expansionism” requires novel and far more sophisticated
methods of counteraction than could be used toward the West, with
which Russia has a historical and cultural relationship.

The last year of Vladimir Putin’s first
term saw a marked transition from efforts to embed Russia into a
structure of international relations formed with disregard for its
will to a system based on the new rules of the game – a powerful
and rigid promotion of Russia’s fundamental interests. By late 2002
and early 2003, it had become clear that Washington and leading
Western European countries were by and large inclined toward
conducting a self-reliant policy.

The commitment of Europe’s major powers
– France and Germany – to their own vision of a “correct” world
order ran into a still firmer conviction from the U.S. that truth
was on its side. This brought about the notorious trans-Atlantic
split in the UN Security Council regarding the necessity of a
military operation against Iraq. The dominance of national
priorities over collective ones showed up during the constitutional
crisis of the integration process that broke out in the European
Union in 2005 and 2006.

Russia drew itself into a discussion
instigated by France over Iraq in 2002 and 2003 in the apparent
hope of consolidating its positions, above all in Europe. Although
Moscow’s zeal for gaining strength was still combined then with the
acceptance of restrictions inherent in a multilateral approach,
hopes for forging a steady trilateral (Paris-Berlin-Moscow)
European format, one capable of widening the embrace of European
integration and placing it in a new dimension, vanished very
quickly. One could see clearly fairly soon that each member of the
triangle pursued its own goals and had no interest in mapping out a
common agenda. Russia, too, adopted the principle of “everyone’s a
solo player” quickly enough.

The U.S. not only became the butt of
harsh criticism after its actions in Afghanistan and Iraq
encountered nationalism of an irrepressible force, as John
Mearsheimer, an important personality in the school of structural
realism, puts it. The Americans also had to face the fact that
their own material resources were diminishing. The fundamentally
faulty approach of the so-called Neo-Cons – who were part of the
American establishment and who from the very start wanted to
install the U.S. as the uncontested leader – led all others to
clear-cut conclusions. One could see more and more clearly that not
a single country by itself or a political bloc can aspire to
absolutely dominate or efficiently govern the international
system.

This conclusion unavoidably stimulates
other members of the international system – irrespective of their
internal structure or political orientation – to beef up their
relative strength measured against other countries and to employ
all possible instruments and resources. In other words, a growth of
general anarchy makes countries more aggressive and
competitive.

As the competition gets tougher, each
country tries to accumulate all of its aggregate capabilities –
military, economic, demographic and others. In the broadest
possible sense, the so-called ‘YUKOS case’ that came right on the
footsteps of the invasion of Iraq by the U.S.-led coalition was a
manifestation of exactly this tendency (which naturally does not
rule out other motivations related to Russia’s internal structural
specificity).

A shift toward tougher state control
over foreign investment – which is more and more noticeable in the
EU, Russia and to some extent in the U.S. – can be viewed as
another testament to the willingness of leading countries to put
themselves in “combat readiness.” Protectionist sentiments in the
industrially developed part of the world were propelled by
political reasons in the first place, as well as by the political
and economic rise of new players, including Russia, since it
stimulated market competition, both on the newly emerging and the
already divided markets in equal measure.


THE SEAMY SIDE OF OUTER
PROCESSES

Objective processes in the
international arena overlap tendencies that have prevailed in
Russia itself, either owing to their innate reasons or to the
impact of outside challenges. A discussion on what role the
government should play in the economy, politics and public life
determines Russia’s political layout.

The cataclysms that Russia has gone
through in the past twenty years or so have brought into the
spotlight the issue of whether the state and its institutions are
capable of stabilizing the situation in society and performing
their basic functions. The destruction of the Soviet political and
social model – where the state had an absolute monopoly – pushed
living standards downhill and ignited ethnic and social strife.
Along with this, the new Russian authorities acted within the realm
of viewpoints that prevailed in advanced countries in the early
1990s, with an emphasis on free market mechanisms, and they were
suspicious about the idea of government regulation.

The real goal behind the privatization
of Soviet-era assets was more to break down the former system of
life than to create a class of efficient owners. This goal was
achieved and the previous model was eradicated. More than that,
Russia laid the foundations for a market economy regulated by the
mechanisms of private-state partnership. Yet by the end of the
1990s the viability of the state itself was questioned.

The political excesses of privatization
– which resulted in key lumps of property falling into the hands of
a narrow circle of people – predestined the inevitability of the
state’s revenge. As the new century was approaching, the state
started to regain control over political and economic power. The
man in the street supported the process of centralizing economic
management, as he perceived the rising role of the state as a more
reliable method of protection against the threats to security in a
broader sense, which multiplied exponentially during the previous
decade. One proof of this can be found in a poll that the ROMIR
research center conducted in January 2004. Almost 65 percent of the
respondents believed then that the state must interfere in the
economy and 85 percent said that strategic industries must go over
to state ownership.

It is noteworthy that those desires
fitted into a general tendency toward strengthening the ‘national
champions’ in Europe (where France is the best example) and
large-scale mergers of private corporations in different countries
to the effect of boosting their global competitiveness.

The specific business activity of
Russian economic flagships which arose out of the ruins of the
Soviet economic system exerts a dual impact on political processes.
From the very start, Russian mineral resource majors have been
working not on the domestic market, but on the global market amid
strong competition. Their growing international competitiveness
requires logistical consolidation, which in itself negatively
affects the competitive environment inside Russia.

Economists have also pointed out
another contradiction: Russian corporations, which so anxiously
watch the tightening grip of the state inside the country, are
extremely interested in a very strong state that is able to support
their external expansion when the situation concerns international
business. This objective is explicitly dubious and scarcely
achievable. The mounting role of the state in domestic and
international economic affairs has become a political reality and,
as a consequence, the flagships of the national economy have been
organically integrated in the kits of foreign-policy
instruments.


DEGRADATION OF INTERNATIONAL
INSTITUTIONS

‘Competition’ evolved during Putin’s
presidency into a notion that is most typically used to describe
the world around us. It is found as necessary in the president’s
annual state-of-the-nation addresses to parliament and in
statements made by Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and other
high-ranking officials. Vladislav Surkov, the chief ideologist of
Russian politics, links ‘competition’ directly to ‘sovereign
democracy,’ which he views as the basic concept. “Sovereignty
stands for openness, rapport with the world and participation in
open struggle, and I’d say sovereignty is a political synonym for
competitiveness,” Surkov writes.

The prevalence of competitive motives
in defining tactics toward partners inevitably pushes the Russian
government – and, frankly speaking, the leaders of other powers as
well – into a situation where it has to solve “the prisoner’s
dilemma” every single day. (In game theory, the prisoner’s dilemma
is a non-zero-sum game where the players have to decide all the
time whether it is more beneficial to cooperate with or to betray
one another – Ed.) The broader the spectrum of issues presenting
mutual interest and the higher the institutionalization of
relations – evidence to which is found in Russia’s interaction with
the Euro-Atlantic community countries – the more frequently such
decision-making is required.

The mistrust that reigns among
“prisoner states” has led to the ignoring of reciprocal initiatives
that Russia and Western countries had come up with in recent years
in a bid to achieve military/political and economic compromises.
Simultaneously, the erosion of the world order with its origins in
the Cold War is heading for a finale, as the last institutional
foundations of that order are corroding. Moscow had tried to act as
a status quo power until a certain moment in an attempt to keep at
least some parts of the Soviet Union’s political heritage, but
after it gained enough strength, the country dashed into a revision
of international rules itself.

Russia made public in 2007 its
renunciation of the Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe
(CFE) – a Cold War-era fossil – and toughened its stance against
the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe
(OSCE).

Prior to that, emphasis was made during
the greater part of Vladimir Putin’s presidency (roughly until July
2006) on the consolidation of this country’s positions in the world
through engagement in various multilateral formats. The entire
approach to foreign policy hinged on the idea of Russia’s
integration into the community of advanced countries. Meanwhile,
Russia’s understanding of integration, its forms and conditions
changed over time and, except for rare occasions, was based on the
importance of Russia getting stronger.

The G8 summit in St. Petersburg in July
2006 can be viewed as the peak of Moscow’s intense attention to
international institutions. Although the format of the conference
hosted by Russia did not envision the discussion of anything
serious, its symbolic significance alone made the spending for its
preparations worthwhile. That moment also coincided with the peak
of Russia’s efforts to join the World Trade Organization, the
highest intensification of interest toward the signing of a new
basic agreement with the European Union, and the stepped-up
activity in the Shanghai Cooperation Organization.

Still, the cooperative approach failed
to meet Moscow’s expectations and there were a number of reasons
for this. First, the Western partners had unequivocally adopted an
instrumental approach to international institutions and rules. No
one could leave unnoticed anymore the U.S. and Europe’s inclination
to using Russian integration endeavors as a tool for getting
one-sided benefits.

The other side of the story is that
counterparts in the West and the East stuck to this line of conduct
due to a general change in the global situation and not out of
trivial petty calculus. This process is objective in some part, as
external circumstances change quickly, while the institutional
structure still gives off glimmers of the Cold War. For another
part, the changes are lubricated by actions by the world’s major
powers with the U.S. in the lead, as the latter has long made all
the strategic decisions and is acting on the ‘loose hands’
principle.

Russian diplomacy has ultimately
adopted that principle, too. Moscow is disappointed with the meager
capabilities of international regulations – either universal or
effective within individual organizations – for promoting its
national interests. An opinion took shape in Russia de facto in
2007 that the existing rules should be revised with account of a
new layout of forces, or else no one should insist on their binding
force.

The moratorium on the CFE treaty, which
we mentioned earlier, the tough stance on the status of Kosovo that
thrust the problem of determining it outside the UN Security
Council format, the nomination of an alternative candidate for the
post of the IMF Managing Director along with demands to reform the
organization, a slowing down of the talks on WTO membership, and a
virtual denial of the OSCE’s powers fall in line with that
approach. On the whole, there is an impression that Russia regards
multilateral institutions as inefficient, and since other leading
powers do not show any readiness to impart new functions to them,
Moscow does not plan to overburden itself with obligations
either.

The spirit of competition wields
ambiguous influence not only on old institutions, but also on the
ones that are still in the phase of formation. Although the
Shanghai Cooperation Organization is important for the
diversification of Russian foreign policy, its development is
perceived as a veiled form of competition between Moscow and
Beijing for influence in Central Asia and far less as a forum for
the joint resolution of the region’s problems.

Ad hoc coalitions that have proved to
be highly productive in recent years – the special formats set up
to resolve well-specified issues like the six countries negotiating
the Korean nuclear problem or the five countries focusing on the
Iranian nuclear program – are regarded as an alternative model,
which Russia has begun to turn to.

In contrast to that, measures for
engaging institutions that currently exist have not produced any
noticeable progress. For instance, the OSCE conference convened at
Russia’s demand in the spring of 2007 to discuss the CFE treaty’s
prospects brought about nothing. Efforts to add a pan-European
dimension to missile defense discussions and to involve Russian and
U.S. partners from NATO and the EU into them have been unsuccessful
too, as most member-states of those organizations are interested in
a bilateral resolution of the problem by Moscow and Washington and
do not want to share responsibility for it, not even
partly.

The degradation of institutions has
affected the pillar of order in the Western world – NATO. The
alliance continues to function successfully from the formal point
of view, growing and building up its presence in the zone of
influence of its former enemy, but in effect it shows signs of a
profound conceptual crisis that could be seen vividly in September
2001 when the U.S. rejected proposals from the European partners
and preferred to solve the problems of its own security without
relying on the alliance.

Further attempts to brace NATO’s
combatant spirit and even to give the bloc a global dimension bump
into reluctance from Western Europe to take part in combat
operations outside the traditional zone of responsibility (and no
military threats are in sight there). U.S. and NATO officials air
sounds of alarm over a possible defeat in Afghanistan – the only
armed conflict where the bloc is involved.

A number of participants in
international relations view a multipolar world as a blessing, as
they link many evils of the past few years to attempts by a single
power to establish global domination. However, they ignore the fact
that multipolarity arising amid a dilapidation of global
institutions does not mean a reverting to stable multilateral
formats. There are grounds to expect an escalating confrontation of
“everyone against everyone” and the cropping up of fly-by-night
alliances for solutions to specific problems.

The erosion of the clear structure of
international relations stirs up general nervousness, and the
reaction by leading Western nations to Russia’s symbolic gesture in
the summer of 2007, when an expedition to the Arctic Ocean put the
Russian tricolor on the ocean floor at the geographic North Pole,
served as a graphic indicator of this. Not one Russian official
even hinted at the possible international legal effects of such a
gesture, yet it produced an outburst of emotions under the slogan
“Rebuff Russian expansionism!”

Simultaneously, all countries concerned
began instantly to unfold a variety of programs with the aim of
guaranteeing their sovereignty in the Arctic, since huge
contradictions exist in that region not only between the West and
Russia, but also between NATO members.

On the whole, mutual suspicions and
mistrust have increased, which can be seen, among other things, in
the willingness to tap an abutment point in the surrounding chaos
and to bring back the good old format of systemic confrontation.
The adherents of this “regularization” most typically clutch at an
ideological justification that sets “liberal capitalism” against
the “authoritarian” one. They also claim that the Russian and
Western sets of values are incompatible.

Political scientist Sergei Karaganov
has said that this testifies to the lack of readiness on both sides
to strike a “big deal,” which seems only natural from the point of
view of rational logic, i.e., the improving of conditions for EU
corporations to have access to Russian energy resources and thus
build a platform for a Russia-EU strategic union. Nor are the
parties ready to solve other – and frequently no less crucial –
issues on the bilateral agenda.


THE STATE AND ITS QUALITY

The system dooms the countries to a
tough competitive struggle that can reduce to zero the beneficial
results of the unavoidable mutual economic and cultural penetration
or mutate it into an instrument of control over losers who have
failed to adapt to the reality of globalization. That is why the
Russian state faces a crucial challenge to meet the requirements
for quality that multiply and get more complicated each
day.

Generally speaking, the state moved in
line with global tendencies during Vladimir Putin’s presidency and
reacquired a greater part of the levers of economic, social and
political control that had slipped out of its hands in the previous
decade. But along with the new successes in that field, questions
arise about the efficiency of using these newly obtained levers, as
well as about the adaptability of the government machinery and its
sensibility to society’s needs.

It is obvious that the current
toughening of competitive conduct of states – with Russia’s intense
involvement in them – combines with the ever-growing mutual
penetration. Of course, there is no arguing that states continue to
regulate most cross-border processes (with the exception of acts of
God, such as pandemics or global warming). The control embraces
spheres like the Internet, or the movement of capital. For
instance, the government is physically able to control the work of
web servers located on its sovereign territory.

And yet globalization in the economy,
politics and – partly – in culture also poses a challenge to the
state. As for the global financial markets that were initially
controllable by the financial and economic authorities of major
countries, they have become complicated to the extent that now they
are falling out of any effective control.

Globalization does not change the rules
of the game qualitatively (ideas about a decay of sovereignty,
which were very popular a decade ago, look quite naïve now),
but it forces countries to search for new instruments to execute
their functions – redistribution of material values and legitimate
use of violence. That is why the quality or – let us put it this
way – sophistication in the use of sovereign rights and duties
becomes a prerequisite for survival in the anarchic world of the
21st century and a new field for competition between
states.

Russian consciousness still operates
with an embedded idea that the state is a sovereign dispensing
national interests and choosing methods to defend those interests.
Globalization greatly complicates the external and internal
environment, as it transforms sovereignty, but never wipes it out.
To remain efficient, along with keeping hold of the helm of power
and forming the political environment, today’s state admits to a
large degree of self-regulation, above all through reflection and
coordination of various interests in the field of the public good,
in the civil sector and in private enterprise.