Old Habits Die Hard
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

Everyone agrees that Sept. 11, 2001, changed the world. Much has
been said and written about the impact the terrorist attacks had on
the United States, how Europe responded and the Middle East was
transformed, and about the effect the attacks had on the
institutions of international relations in general.

But how did the events affect Russia? This question is rarely
the subject of debate, but 9/11 and its consequences facilitated a
change not just in Russia’s relations with the outside world, but
in its domestic political atmosphere as well.

President Vladimir Putin’s instantaneous and flawless reaction
to the U.S. tragedy created the possibility for a fundamental
change in Russia’s relations with the United States and with the
West as a whole. The Kremlin sided with the White House, offering
moral support and practical assistance. It is not important what
was guiding Putin — sincere solidarity with the United States,
hope for preferential political and economic treatment, the
conviction that terrorism represents an enormous threat, or the
desire to legitimize its own campaign in Chechnya, as many of its
detractors claimed. Whatever the case, it was a sweeping

Later events showed that the administration of U.S. President
George W. Bush took this reaction as a given. Washington was unable
or unwilling to understand that gestures from another great power
— and one with interests very much at odds with those of the
United States — should be answered in kind. The overriding
impression was that the shock of 9/11 deprived the United States of
its capacity to pick up on subtle diplomatic gestures. The nation
and its leaders focused entirely on their own fears and on the
measures needed to overcome them. Here we are talking not just
about U.S. relations with Russia, but the United States’ behavior
in the international arena in general, including toward its

The chance for a breakthrough in U.S.-Russian relations that
existed following 9/11 and roughly until fall 2002 was missed.
Washington calmly and deliberately put into effect its own agenda,
disregarding outside objections and failing to take seriously
whether its agenda matched the interests of the rest of the

The greatest destructive potential for relations between Russia
and the United States — and for Moscow’s pro-Western course in the
international arena in general — was the Bush administration’s
main ideological tenet of tying global security issues to the cause
of advancing democracy. Outside partners found it hard to swallow a
neoconservative ideology that organically combined genuine
democratic messianism with adherence to definite U.S. geopolitical
ambitions. In this sense, Russia was a particularly difficult

Russia’s political sensibilities have traditionally been rooted
in geopolitical architecture. Moscow bases its modus operandi
exclusively on national interests and a balance of power more
appropriate to the classical geopolitics of the 19th century.
Humanitarian and ideological motivations behind the actions of
others are interpreted as an attempt to conceal the genuine intent.
This happens even in those cases when the non-political nature of
the action is obvious. From this standpoint, there is not much to
say about the reception of a foreign policy course designed by
architects like those in the Bush administration who deliberately
combine democratic rhetoric with their own geopolitical — and
sometimes purely commercial — interests and put them into practice
by the use of force.

In the final analysis, Russia has come to the conclusion that
the global war on terrorism is simply a new arena for unfolding
global competition, and the accompanying phenomenon, labeled
«promoting democracy,» is a tool in that competition. Thus, Russia
should not just sit back, but take advantage of the opportunities
presented by today’s complex global situation. Arms sales to Iran,
Syria and Venezuela, for example, are often seen as anti-U.S.
political moves. In fact, they are pure business and not at all
personal, especially given that Russian capitalism is young and
rapacious, as young capitalism was everywhere else in the world two
centuries ago. If there is a quick buck to be made somewhere,
that’s where we’ll make it because that’s what everybody else does,
and the only difference is that we’re more open about it and have
not yet learned how to dress greed for gain in idealistic

The unbounded political cynicism reigning among Russia’s
political elite is in part the result of five years in the
counter-terrorist coalition. There is still no sign of the common
enemy, while double standards are alive and kicking. All of the
main participants are wrestling with their own enemies:
Occasionally, the interests of several «allies» coincide, but more
often, they do not. Whatever the case, 9/11 was not a moment of
truth after which global players set aside their previous
differences in the face of a new threat.

The obsession with the problem of security has led to
uninhibited growth in the role of intelligence services. There is
general paranoia and an expectation of bloody attacks that
inevitably flow from the search for new threats, including from
various «fifth columns» and foreign elements within society.
Traditionalism is on the rise, as is religious consciousness as an
attempt to resist something from inside. None of these phenomena in
Russia is solely the result of the events of Sept. 11; they all
have internal preconditions. Unfortunately, Russia has joined a
growing global sociopolitical trend over the last five years that
includes all of these components. And this serves only to
strengthen the current state of affairs.

In a world where democracy is becoming an applied instrument —
and one, that is not working as it was meant to — there are few
role models left to copy. This plays surprisingly well into the
hands of those who would build some kind of «sovereign democracy,»
as they can always ask whether we can see anything worth striving
for. If there are no ideals left but only naked pragmatic
interests, then what do you want from us, they ask?

// The Moscow