Containing Russia: Back to the Future?
No. 4 2007 October/December
Sergei V. Lavrov

Russian Foreign Minister since 2004

political forces on both sides of the Atlantic apparently want to
launch a discussion about whether or not to “contain Russia.”
Judging by the facts, this reflects real sentiments and political
strategies. At this time, I would like to make my personal
contribution to this discussion.

The very issue of
Russia’s “containment” appeals to instincts of the past. It not so
much attests to the lack of imagination, but rather that for some
individuals almost nothing has changed since the end of the Cold
War. These people propose imposing the structure of international
relations which took shape long ago in the Western alliance, to the
present moment. The motives that dictated this policy of
containment are making themselves felt at this new historical
stage, as well.


What can be the
goal of “containing Russia” today? A Russia that has renounced an
ideology of imperial and other “great plans” in favor of pragmatism
and common sense. How can a nation, which has placed emphasis on
its domestic development and is now progressing remarkably well, be
contained? Russia’s consolidation through creative work has
naturally been translated into the strengthening of its
international positions. Russia’s foreign policy is nothing more
than the continuation of its domestic policy. We have realistic and
understandable aspirations, namely: the maintenance of
international stability as a major condition for our further
development together with the natural evolution of international
relations with the goal of achieving freedom and

If we analyze the
ideological inertia that has led the United States to “transforming
diplomacy,” it will become evident that there is a wide gap between
the foreign-policy aspirations of Washington and Moscow. One should
assume that it is here that the problem lies, at least the larger
part of it. Russia has extensive experience with revolutions – the
entire 20th century. Actually, the past century was a kind of
purgatory for European civilization, which overcame the evil by
exorcizing its ideological “demons” – various kinds of extremist
products from European liberal thought. This is why Russia refuses
to subscribe to any ideological project; more importantly, it will
not borrow such concepts from abroad.

It has become
fashionable among certain circles to criticize the Westphalian
system, which placed value differences beyond the scope of
interstate relations. In this regard, the Cold War was regression.
Do we really need to continue going down this same path, which can
only lead us to confrontation?

Ideology, when
confused with practical politics, clouds one’s vision and mind.
Zbigniew Brzezinski, who says that the United States provoked the
entrance of Soviet troops into Afghanistan, provides a good example
on this count. However, if Brzezinski is correct, this means that
the U.S. had a hand in the creation of al-Qaeda to a much greater
degree than is generally believed. Enthusiasm inspired by ideology
brings to life the law of undesirable consequences.

What is the
meaning of containing a country that is content with what it
already has? It only wants to engage in trade, a field practiced –
and with much success – by an overwhelming majority of our partners
for centuries. By implementing our natural competitive advantages,
we increase investment in human resources, as well as our ability
for steering the economy onto a path of innovative development.
Today, Russia’s economy is acquiring normal standards: its growth
is largely based on domestic consumer demand. We also entertain the
emergence of global corporations in new economies, which issue
competitive challenges to “old” multinational corporations. We
intend to continue integrating into the global economy on generally
accepted terms, while adapting our legislation

Unlike the Soviet
Union, Russia is an open country that has no intention of closing
itself off from anyone. Therefore, there is no need to “open” us.
It is not we who are building walls today, both physical (between
and inside countries) and political. We oppose artificial barriers
in international relations and support the removal of visa
barriers, including in relations with the European Union. What
other action could provide a more reliable guarantee against the
unpredictable development of one or another country?

Russia concedes
to the generally held belief that democracy and the market must
make up the basis of the socio-political system and economic life.
There is no doubt that we are at the beginning of this path and are
still far away from an ideal situation. But the development vector
has been chosen – and chosen irrevocably. Russian society, which
experienced painful consequences from unprecedented
transformations, has formed a broad consensus on the depth and
rates of these changes. This is what brought about peace and
internal political stability, together with its evolutionary
development, without any upheavals. In the long run, a more mature
democracy, including a developed civil society and a
well-structured party system, will emerge naturally from a higher
level of social and economic development. This means, above all,
the formation of a substantial middle class, which cannot emerge
overnight. It is only the “oligarchs” that can emerge overnight, as
was the case in Russia in the early 1990s. But those times are gone
for good.


Russia is often
criticized for assuming its naturally large role in the global
energy sector. This criticism is obviously a manifestation of
complexes from countries that cannot reconcile themselves to their
dependence on external sources of energy. But energy dependence is
mutual. At Russia’s initiative, the St. Petersburg G8 summit in
July 2006 found a balance of interests of all actors on the energy
market. None of the countries that export energy resources finds it
reasonable to “sit on the pipe” or on its energy resources like the
tale of the dog in the manger. Like anywhere else in the world,
energy is viewed in Russia as a strategic industry. This is
particularly the case at the present time, as we are getting
negative foreign reactions to the strengthening of our country and
the growth of its role in global politics. However, Russia has not
violated any of its commitments to importer countries, nor a single
contract for hydrocarbon supplies.

I think it would
be right to say that we view our role in global energy supply as a
means for ensuring our foreign-policy independence. And it seems
that it is the freedom of action and the freedom of speech – which
we have acquired in foreign affairs and which, by the way, we use
within the framework of international law – that comprise the main
charges by those who are unhappy about a strong Russia.

Ninety percent of
the world’s proven hydrocarbon reserves are under state control in
one way or another. Thus, the Russian government’s energy policy
corresponds to the general tendency toward increased state control
over natural resources. But there is emerging a new balance in the
global energy sector: today, state control over access to energy
resources is being counterbalanced by the concentration of advanced
technologies in the hands of private multinational corporations.
Are these not healthy conditions for equal interaction based on
competitive advantages of the involved parties united by the common
goal of meeting the energy requirements of the global


Russia has
started pursuing a national foreign policy that is in striking
contrast to the ideologically motivated internationalism that
underlay the foreign policy of the Soviet Union. Multilateral
diplomacy based on international law is becoming a universal
instrument for regulating regional and global relations.

In the age of
globalization, there are no objective reasons for confrontation –
unless, of course, we introduce ideology into international
relations and remilitarize them. As globalization has extended far
beyond the borders of Western civilization, competition has become
truly universal, and I am convinced this is what produced the new
paradigm of international relations. Today, value benchmarks and
development models have also become matters of competition. And
this competition must be fair. This is a fundamental challenge for
all of us.

Ages ago, French
king Francis I wrote to his mother after he lost the Battle of
Pavia that he had “lost everything but honor.” In the same way, no
one ever will make the West give up its values and way of life,
unless it itself wishes to do so. Thus, it should only be natural
for the West to resist imposing its values on others, but rather
focus on its own competitive advantages. It is worth recalling in
this connection the words of Professor Eberhard Sandschneider,
director of the Research Institute of the German Council on Foreign
Relations. In his view, the West’s positions in this competition
have weakened in recent years due to U.S. policy, which has
resulted in a “tremendous loss of the West’s image” in Asia and
Africa. “Over the last eight years, we have done nothing, or almost
nothing, to make our values attractive to people living in those
regions of the Earth,” he says. One may ask then, why should Russia
be held responsible for such consequences?

In global
politics, challenges and threats have surfaced that require a truly
global response through the broadest possible international
cooperation. The traditional cumbersome “binding alliances” or
“sacred unions” against specific targets do not solve these tasks.
The diversity of interests and possibilities for participating in
various international efforts has resulted in the development of
network diplomacy; this is an optimum way for national interaction
in bilateral and multilateral formats. It is only logical that
diplomacy is learning those network methods devised by private
corporations and civil society. Using the same methods will ensure
the harmony of international life in all its diverse

multipolarity is becoming the basis of the new international
system. This objective reality can no longer be disputed. When
Russian President Vladimir Putin said in Munich that a “unipolar
world” had failed to materialize, he was only stating the obvious.
The experience of recent years has amply demonstrated that no
single state or group of states has enough resources for imposing
unipolarity. This allegedly constructive simplification of
interstate relations based on a vertical hierarchy – however
attractive this may seem – is utterly unrealistic. It is one thing
to respect American culture and civilization; it is another thing
to embrace Americocentrism. Unipolarity, quite simply, is an
encroachment on God’s prerogatives.

The new system of
international relations is not anarchy or some random “Brownian
motion.” The presence of more than two leading actors in global
politics demands collective leadership to ensure the flexible
regulation of international relations. This, in turn, requires an
ability to reduce diverse interests of partners to a common
denominator and to act in agreement with other leading

In a multipolar
world, confrontation is not predetermined. If I may quote the poet
Anna Akhmatova, the future “casts its shadow long before it comes.”
The United Nations, which in the Cold War years often only cast its
shadow, represents the future of international politics in the age
of globalization. Today, this global organization can and must
become pivotal for the entire international system. The UN Charter
provides all the necessary grounds for this to be worked into


The development
of international relations has reached a point where to further
delay solving the world’s accumulated problems may have
catastrophic consequences for all states, as security and
prosperity are inseparable notions in the 21st-century

Unfortunately, in
addition to problems inherited from the Cold War years, the
international community has embarked on a path of creating new
ones. The inertia of ideologically motivated unilateral responses
has acquired its second wind today, resulting in “broken china”
everywhere – stalemates that are impossible to resolve within the
frameworks of former approaches.

Time and again,
be it in practice in Iraq and Lebanon, or at the level of analysis
with respect to North Korea, Syria, Iran or the Darfur region in
Sudan, one will arrive at the conclusion that these existing
problems cannot be solved by force. Security cannot be simply
stockpiled – this is a living process, which reveals the meaning of
the truth about one’s “daily bread” as applied to international
relations. Real security for now and in the foreseeable future can
be ensured only by establishing normal relations and cooperation
with all states, including the problem ones, and by involving them
into dialog. It is difficult not to agree with German Foreign
Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, who said that the modern world
should be based not on military deterrence but on a readiness for
cooperation. Moreover, the recent seizure of 15 British troops in
the Persian Gulf has shown that the human factor, including the
motivation of behavior, is not up to the tasks demanded by policies
of force, and genetically resists them. So what is the use of
continuing to pursue these policies and engaging in

Let us briefly
consider the Middle East. The number of personnel enlisted in the
so-called “private security companies” in Iraq implies that not
everything is going well in that country in purely military terms.
This number has already reached 30 percent of the coalition forces’
strength. But these individuals act outside the framework of
international humanitarian law, misrepresent the true role of the
force factor in the Iraqi settlement, and do irreparable damage to
intercivilizational relations.

Complex problems
require comprehensive approaches. This is particularly true of the
situation in Iran. Relying only on coercion with respect to Teheran
means threatening the energy security of Europe and the world at
large. The problem can be solved, in part, by the normalization of
relations with Teheran, which would also help preserve the
nonproliferation regime.

Now, attempts are
being made to solve the Kosovo problem at the expense of the
international community – that is, by creating a precedent that
would go beyond the frameworks of international law. In the case of
Kosovo, our partners tend to yield to blackmail of violence and
anarchy, whereas in Palestine, where violence has been continuing
for decades, they display indifference: a Palestinian state has
never come into existence.

Absolute security
for one state is absolute insecurity for all the others, as Henry
Kissinger accurately acknowledges in his book Diplomacy. Such a
policy dooms a state to isolation. But the chimera of “absolute
security” is also a dangerous temptation: then, as Fyodor
Dostoyevsky wrote, “everything is permitted.” Putting oneself
beyond international legal frameworks is tantamount to attempting
to rise above the moral law, beyond good and evil.

Today’s problems,
including the contradictory consequences of globalization, cannot
be solved without morals. The Sermon on the Mount, the Golden Rule,
and humility provide the moral law for international relations, as
well. The incumbent U.S. administration seemed to understand this
at the initial stage of its rule: in February 2001, President
George Bush said America should project its strength “with purpose
and with humility.” [Remarks by the President to State Department
Employees, February 15, 2001 – Ed.] Only equality and universal
application of international law, where “there is neither Jew nor
Greek,” can help restore the governability of the world’s
development. If we do not treat others in a Christian way, will
others treat us Christian-like?

Perhaps, the
collectivism of the Russian mindset makes it easier for us than for
others to comprehend this. Russia’s tragic history has taught us
the ability to coexist. Reaching agreement – this is the way to
stronger intercivilizational accord, while attempts to divide the
world along civilizational lines are a repetition of the experience
of Bolshevism and Trotskyism.


The problem of
overcoming the legacy of the Cold War is particularly acute in
Europe. Bloc politics, based on the logic of containment, dominated
in Europe for too long. And now we are confronted with what can
only be interpreted as the restoration of a sanitary cordon to the
west of Russia’s borders. Favoritism in this part of Europe is
generating an unsound atmosphere, encouraging the growth of
nationalist sentiments, which pose a major threat to the
continent’s unity. Does the past imperative of ensuring the U.S.
presence in Europe, while excluding Russia and blocking Germany’s
rise, remain valid?

Whatever the case
may be, under the burden of the EU’s politicized enlargement, the
European project has been dealt a major setback. It turns out that
the policy of containment was targeted not only against Russia, but
also against Europe as one of the potential centers of the new
world order. Moreover, Europe may have to face the absurd situation
where it will have to finance its own division; in other words, the
EU will be unable to influence the positions of some of its new
members that are presently obsessed with a desire to “contain”
Russia and take “historical revenge.”

I am deeply
convinced that the current problems of the European Union, and
European politics in general, cannot be solved without constructive
and forward-looking relations with Russia that are based on mutual
trust. This must meet the interests of the United States, as

Instead, there
are ongoing attempts to “contain Russia” in any way possible. Thus,
NATO keeps enlarging in violation of previous assurances given to
Moscow that this would not happen. Now the continuation of the
enlargement policy is justified by the need to “proliferate
democracy.” How can democracy be promoted by a military-political
alliance that, within the framework of its “transformation,” has
been consistently increasing the number of scenarios for the
possible use of force?

Nevertheless, the
idea that NATO membership is somehow a laissez-passer to the “club”
of democratic nations is now proclaimed for members of the
Commonwealth of Independent States (although only one criterion is
applied to see whether a candidate country can pass the “democracy
test” – namely, its readiness to follow in the wake of the West’s
policy). It is difficult to say whether such development of the
post-Soviet territories is aimed at receiving moral satisfaction or
“containing Russia.”

As regards the
CIS, nobody has any doubts that Russia has the capacity to maintain
social, economic, and other kind of stability in the region.
Moscow’s renunciation of politicized trade and economic relations,
together with its transfer to market-based principles, convincingly
attests to its resolve to ensure normal interstate relations in
this space. These are required conditions for Russia-West
cooperation in this region. But this cooperation must be equal and
respectful, both with regard to each other and with regard to CIS
member countries as well. These nations need help in building their
statehoods, not making them hostages of the notorious geopolitical
“zero-sum game.”

unilateral plans to deploy elements of the U.S. missile defense
system in Europe are also in line with the “Russia containment”
mentality. It is hardly coincidental that a missile defense base in
Europe will fit into the U.S. global missile defense system, being
deployed along the perimeter of Russia (and China’s) borders, like
a jigsaw piece falling into place. Naturally, this strategic
challenge will be met at the strategic level. No one has abolished
the interrelationship between strategic offensive and defensive
armaments. Many people in Europe are rightly concerned that the
deployment of elements of the U.S. National Missile Defense will
have negative global consequences for the disarmament

The Russian
president’s proposal to the United States for joint operation of a
radar facility based in Azerbaijan’s Gabala, and his recent
proposals made in Kennebunkport for the creation of a regional
monitoring and early warning system, provide an opportunity to find
a way out of the current situation while taking into account the
sentiments of all parties involved. As a starting point for truly
collective efforts in this field, we are ready to conduct joint
analysis of potential missile threats (in the period until 2020)
together with the United States and other interested countries,
above all those in Europe. Such cooperation, as President Putin
already stated, could help improve the quality of Russian-American
relations in the sphere of security and elevate them to a higher
level of confidence. We would thus acquire mutual trust, which our
countries are lacking now. This would grant us to establish a truly
global strategic alliance that will pave the way to a new
multilateral system of collective security, the creation of which
was bequeathed to us by the founding fathers of the United

The desire to
“contain Russia” is also evident in the situation over the Treaty
on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe (CFE). Russia complies with
the treaty in good faith and only desires what the document was
designed to give: equal security. The problem, however, is that the
principle of equal security was undermined with the dissolution of
the Warsaw Pact, while NATO was left intact and then enlarged.
Attempts to correct the situation were met by the categorical
refusal of members of the North Atlantic Alliance to ratify the
Adapted Conventional Armed Forces in Europe Treaty. For any
individual who has read the documents from the 1999 Istanbul
conference, it is quickly understood that any pretext to justify
the refusal of the accord is legally groundless. So, the matter at
issue again is not law but politics, that is, the containment

The levels of
armaments assigned by the CFE Treaty to the Warsaw Pact members
have made their way into NATO’s quota. This is already not “equal
security” but a desire to take what belonged to others. This
situation attests to attempts to reproduce bloc instincts and
approaches and to return to the “zero-sum game” logic. The
situation with the CFE Treaty vividly shows that not a single
element of the global or European security architecture can be
stable if it is not based on the principles of equality and mutual

After all, if we
cannot adapt this old instrument to the new realities, is it not
time to review the situation and start working on a new system of
arms control and confidence-building measures? That is, of course,
if we can agree that modern Europe needs such measures. The frank
and honest discussions at Kennebunkport inspire hope that ways to
put the Adapted Conventional Armed Forces in Europe Treaty into
force can be found. This will be possible only if everyone fulfills
their legal commitments and does not hide behind artificial
political bonds.

Perhaps, it would
be better to “clear” the European political scene of the entire
Cold War legacy and to start building new structures for arms
control and confidence-building measures, which will meet the
demands of our time, since we are no longer enemies and do not want
to create the false impression that a war in Europe is


The way to trust
lies through candid dialog and well-reasoned discussions, as well
as through interaction that provides for the joint analysis of
threats. It is this latter opportunity that Russia is denied for no
particular reason. Actually, the West demands from Russia implicit
faith in its partners’ analytical abilities and good intentions.
But in matters involving national security demanding such things
cannot be taken seriously, to say the least.

We will safeguard
our own security and will do this on the principle of reasonable
sufficiency. At the same time, the door for positive joint actions
to ensure common interests on the basis of equality will always
remain open.

In his speech in
Munich, President Vladimir Putin invited all our partners to meet
for serious and well-reasoned discussions about the unsatisfactory
situation in international relations. We believe that the dual
partner-foe attitude to Russia must go. Such an attitude cannot
help solve the problem of trust and cooperation. If someone intends
to “give a rebuff to Russia’s negative behavior,” why expect
cooperation on our part in matters of interest to our partners? One
should choose between containment and cooperation, including in
such matters as Russia’s accession to the World Trade Organization
and the Asian Development Bank, or the Jackson-Vanik amendment,
grounds for which ceased to exist in the late 1980s.

Regretfully, even
in the event of clear issues – such as the need to halt the revival
of neo-Nazi tendencies and insults to the memory of the victors
over Nazism – the positions of many of our Western partners take
shape under the same desire to “contain” Russia.

Now that
challenges and security threats are becoming global, there is a big
difference between cooperation and its absence, between concerted
efforts and the need for each state or group of states to act at
their own risk and peril or rely on others’ wisdom, dogmatically
proposed as the only possible solution to global problems. We bear
responsibility of our own in global affairs: no one will do that
for us. We do not suffer from an exceptionalism complex, but we do
not have grounds either to consider our analytic abilities and our
ideas to be worse than another’s. Interaction with Russia is
possible only on the basis of full equality, respect for the
security interests of each other, and mutual benefit.


relations still enjoy the stabilizing benefits of a close and
honest working relationship between Presidents Vladimir Putin and
George W. Bush. Their recent meeting at Walkers Point graphically
demonstrated this. Both Russians and Americans hold to the memory
of their joint victory over Nazism, and share the experience of the
Cold War and their joint departure from it.

If an equal
partnership prevails in U.S.-Russian relations, both countries will
be able to achieve almost anything. What must be prevented is
making Russian-American relations hostage to election cycles of the
two countries, or worse, letting a third party to step in to do
this. That would mean washing our hands of the vital interests of
our peoples and the interests of global stability.

The struggle
against international terrorism, organized crime and drug
trafficking; the search for realistic ways to protect the climate;
the development of nuclear energy, while strengthening the
nonproliferation regime; the ensuring of global energy security,
and space exploration. Should we sacrifice all these and many other
areas of our already developing practical cooperation at the altar
of the containment policy?

It would be
unfortunate if the inertia of bloc approaches (which, by the way,
are theoretically codified by the return to the containment policy)
and the unnecessary haste in matters that can wait, provoked
alienation between Russia and the United States. That would reduce
the area of our interaction and produce an effect of “shagreen
skin,” which can determine its own dynamics in relations between
the two countries, especially if ordinary Americans are told that
Russia is to blame for almost all the troubles of their

is not as widespread in Russia as elsewhere. And if individuals
want to mention George Kennan, they should not only quote his Long
Telegram but also heed his advice as to how the outside world
should behave (without didacticism and the imposition of will) in
the post-Soviet period of Russia’s development. The recent
establishment of a working group, named “Russia-U.S.: A Look Into
the Future,” which was co-chaired by Henry Kissinger and Yevgeny
Primakov, could not have come at a better time. Presidents Vladimir
Putin and George Bush actively supported this initiative, just as
the establishment of the Vladimir Lukin-Jessica Mathews group for
unbiased discussions of issues pertaining to democracy, human
rights and freedoms.

Both sides should
demonstrate a broad-minded and unbiased view of things. Such an
approach could be provided by the perception of Russia and the
United States as two branches of European civilization, each
contributing its own added value. We could meet at a common table
on the basis of European attitudes. Trilateral interaction in
international affairs between the United States, Russia and the EU
could be a practical formula for preserving the integrity of the
Euro-Atlantic space in global politics. I can only agree with
Jacques Delors, who believes that “future development must bring
about a truly comprehensive agreement” within the framework of this
troika. The former president of the European Commission is
absolutely right by saying that Russia, the EU and America are
“three political forces that are accustomed to disputing with each
other” and that “every time they become divided by disagreements,
when each party starts playing its own game, the risk of global
instability increases dramatically.”

Georgy Adamovich,
a prominent literary figure of the Russian émigré
community, once said that pessimism is generated by dealing with
people about whom there remain no illusions. I am confident that
this has nothing to do with either Russia or the United

I do not think we
have lost the ability to surprise the world. Both Moscow and
Washington are quite adept at doing this separately. Why not try
and work more closely together – especially since we must become
more concentrated in the global economy and politics? So why not be
together and act in the spirit of cooperation and healthy and fair
competition based on common standards and respect for international
law? We have nothing to divide, but we share, together with other
partners, responsibility for the destinies of the world. Thereby we
would live up to the great future predicted by Alexis de
Tocqueville for our two countries. At the same time, we could
“contain” those who are trying to deny the present world
indisputable benefits that Russian-American and, generally
speaking, Euro-Atlantic partnership brings.

The July meeting
between the Russian and U.S. presidents, which also involved George
Bush Sr., showed what could be achieved by teamwork. Both leaders
agreed to look for common approaches to the issues of missile
defense and the reduction of strategic armaments, and came out with
a new joint initiative on nuclear energy and nonproliferation.
Symbolically, they also fished together, but they did not fish in
troubled waters.