New Thinking Needed
Editor's Column
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Fyodor A. Lukyanov

Russia in Global Affairs
National Research University–Higher School of Economics, Moscow, Russia
Faculty of World Economy and International Affairs
Research Professor;
Valdai Discussion Club
Research Director


SPIN RSCI: 4139-3941
ORCID: 0000-0003-1364-4094
ResearcherID: N-3527-2016
Scopus AuthorID: 24481505000


E-mail: [email protected]
Tel.: (+7) 495 980 7353
Address: Office 112, 29 Malaya Ordynka Str., Moscow 115184, Russia

In recent years, speculation has swirled ahead of President
Vladimir Putin’s annual state-of-the-nation addresses that the main
thrust of the speech would be about foreign affairs. Each year
there appeared to be special circumstances that called for the
president to lay out his vision of the situation in the world.

In 2005, the buzz was about Russia’s role in the 60th
anniversary of the victory over Nazi Germany. Last year, with
Russia chairing the Group of Eight, the word was that Putin would
deal in more depth with global problems. Prior to Thursday’s
speech, everyone thought Putin would sum up the results of his two
terms in office.

Every prediction was wrong. This is Putin’s style; his dislikes
doing what others expect him to do. However, each of the last three
state-of-the-nation addresses did contain remarks about foreign
policy that became the subject of much discussion.

In 2005, it was Putin’s sensational statement calling the
breakup of the Soviet Union «the greatest geopolitical catastrophe
of the 20th century.» In 2006, it was his thinly veiled reference
to the United States, whom he called a «Comrade Wolf» ready to
devour whatever it wanted. In his speech this week, Putin announced
the suspension of Russia’s participation in the Treaty on
Conventional Armed Forces in Europe.

The evolution of these statements is telling. Two years ago the
Kremlin simply stated that it had its own perception of the world.
The West did not fully understand what Putin meant with his
reference to the Soviet collapse. He was not grieving over the loss
of the superpower, as his words were interpreted. He meant that the
disappearance of such a gigantic empire prompted changes we are not
yet fully able to measure. But we must adapt to those changes.

A year later, Putin offered an evaluation of Russia’s main
political partner. He sarcastically expressed his disappointment
with the United States’ inability to understand Russia’s position.
He voiced these same thoughts more aggressively during his speech
in Munich in February of this year.

In his final state-of-the-nation address, the president has
progressed to concrete actions, threatening to reconsider Russia’s
treaty obligations in Europe. In Munich, Putin expressed doubts
about the treaty limiting short- and medium-range ballistic
missiles. In Moscow, he questioned the CFE Treaty.

Of course, the recasting of the Russian position should be
considered in the context of the Kremlin’s mood swings. With an
unflagging stream of petrodollars pouring in, and with Western
countries mired down in various problems, Russia is experiencing an
exaggerated feeling of self-confidence. But the wisdom of rejecting
international obligations as a foreign policy tactic remains to be
seen. With a little intellectual exertion, one could find more
graceful ways of expressing dissatisfaction with the current state
of affairs.

Discussions of Moscow’s growing swagger should not overshadow
the main cause behind the increasing number of clashes between
Russia and the West, which is the fact that the international
security system is based on Cold War conditions. Even under changed
circumstances, there is a tendency to revert to the old way.

The CFE Treaty established a balance of power between the
Soviets and Europeans based on conditions in 1990. Since then,
Europe has changed beyond recognition, and the failure to update
the treaty has created an absurd situation. Past attempts to change
the treaty have run up against problems that were unforeseeable 17
years ago — namely, the existence of unauthorized
territorial-ethnic conflicts that touch upon questions like the
right to national self-determination and the principle of
territorial integrity. These problems lead to increasing

NATO has changed but has yet to formulate a new mission to match
current circumstances. And as NATO expansion proceeds, Moscow’s
fears only cause irritation in Western capitals. They seem unable
to understand why Russia would feel threatened.

It is unclear what is happening with today’s strategic agenda.
The Cold War approach is inadequate now. Since serious strategic
games are starting up in Europe, it is necessary to treat them with
the same gravity that marked the mutual restraint of the past
epoch. Otherwise, both sides will only provoke each other rather
than seek agreement on common rules governing behavior. From this
point of view, Putin’s attempt to reform the Organization for
Security and Cooperation in Europe, or OSCE, seems sensible.
However, the West has shown little interest in the proposal and is
content to keep the OSCE on the back burner.

The current world order differs radically from that of 20 years
ago, and even from the situation 10 years ago. Attempts to adapt
former institutions to meet today’s challenges only lead to new
misunderstandings. The West is becoming increasingly convinced that
Russia is returning to its old unconstructive superpower politics.
And Russian discontent stems from a paranoid «besieged fortress»
mentality that sees foreign money flowing into destabilize the
regime. Twenty years ago, Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev
proclaimed his «new thinking for our country and the world.» On the
anniversary of that declaration, it would be worthwhile to make
another attempt at formulating a new vision of the world and a
fundamentally new approach to solving its problems.

| The Moscow