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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

Sir Roderic Lyne not only knows a great deal about Russia, he
understands her as well. I think I probably don’t have to explain
that this is not always one and the same thing. When events in a
country are examined in the wider context — both geographical and
historical — many things appear in a different light and, more
importantly, become a great deal clearer.

So my article is not a polemic with Sir Roderic, but rather an
attempt to apply his method as in a mirror. To look at Western
behaviour and politics in the same way as he has looked at Russia’s
behaviour and politics.

In Western discussions on what should be done about Moscow, one
is always surprised by the attempt, probably unconscious, to
formulate a separate, completely independent approach to the
«self-confidence» «resurgence», «aggressiveness» (one could go on)
of Russia.

The author of this article often takes part in conferences
devoted to international relations, which can be divided into two

Some have global problems as their subject. Here the Russian
theme is always secondary (at best). The discussion centres round
growing imbalances — in energy, ecology, food and demography. The
influential factors are: US politics, the special features of
transatlantic relations, the rise of China and India, the
increasing influence of Brazil and, to a certain extent, trends in
the developing world, mainly Africa. Russia, as a rule, is
mentioned after a comma, mainly during energy discussions.

Other conferences are specially devoted to Russia. There the
Russian participant cannot fail to be filled with a sense of his
own overweening importance. Most Western orators with varying
degrees of eloquence stress the danger arising from the Kremlin’s
renewed possibilities and call for serried ranks in opposing
Russian expansionism and the resurrection of the good old unity of
the «free world». It goes without saying that after the war in the
Caucasus these appeals became even more passionate.

This contrast between the overestimation of the Russian threat
on the regional (Eurasian) level and the underestimation of her
global role and her degree of involvement in general processes
creates the distortion which is so typical in Western understanding
of Russian matters. To be fair it should be said that Moscow itself
contributes to the strengthening of this image. Russian discussion
practically ignores global problems, concentrating all its
attention on the country’s interests in the classical superpower

In reality Russia is a fully-fledged and essential part of the
many and varied currents in today’s world. It is a question not
just of global economics, which is more or less acknowledged, but
also of political trends defining the behaviour of the leading
players in international relations. The Russian state, like all the
others, is seeking answers to the challenges thrown up by global
politics and economics.

A characteristic of the current international situation is that
the obvious growth of very different forms of competition is
combined with increasing economic interdependence among the
competitors. This makes nonsense of the fashionable comparisons
with the «Great Game» of the 19th century, the run-up to the First
World War or the Cold War period.

We have lived through many historical perturbations over the
last 20 years. The 9/11 tragedy is considered one of the truly
critical moments which turned the planet upside down. Russia has
already called Georgia’s attack on South Ossetia her 9/11. Both
Washington and Moscow said (of their own events) that the world
would never be the same again.

Without in the slightest downplaying the importance of these
events, one could be forgiven for questioning whether they can
justifiably be called turning points. Neither the terrorist attack
on the US not Georgia’s attempt to solve its territorial problems
by force turned the world upside down. They were powerful,
explosive catalysts in processes, which had been potentially
building up for some time.

US behaviour after the attacks on New York and Washington was no
volte face, but simply a logical continuation on the same course,
using the tools which were formed during the 1990s. The neocons had
just come to power in Washington and for them it was an unexpected
justification for forcing the implementation of plans had developed
a long time before.

Russia’s actions after the Georgian attack were not in line with
any previously prepared plan, but they were not an unpredictable
reaction either. This was irritation, which had been hidden from
view and had now erupted, at the way the West had been behaving
towards Moscow over more than 15 years — from the promise to
Gorbachev not to expand NATO up to the recognition of Kosovo in
defiance of all the tenets of international law.

In my opinion there are two events, which can lay real claim to
being turning points in recent history. These are the collapse of
the USSR in 1991 and the invasion of Iraq in 2003. Both had a
definitive effect on the world situation and, consequently, on
Russia’s behaviour.

The disappearance of the gigantic Eurasian empire, which for
centuries had formed one-sixth of the earth’s surface and for the
last fifty years had been one of the two buttresses supporting
world order, produced a new reality. For the first time in its
history the USA was the world leader, arrogating to itself
responsibility for the whole world, while Russia had suffered
serious geopolitical defeat and was struggling for its life as a
sovereign state.

Arguments about whether there was any chance of closely
integrating Russia into the Western system will probably never end,
but if there was a chance, then it was not taken up. The Clinton
administration did, it’s true, make the transformation of Russia
one of its show projects. However, there were no groundbreaking
ideas, such as the Marshall Plan or the unification of Europe on
the basis of cooperation between two sworn enemies, France and
Germany. Western efforts focussed on spreading the influence of
Western institutions, which had proved their efficacy in the years
of ideological confrontation, rather than on creating the
structures for a new world order. It seemed as though the feeling
was why create something new, when you can adapt tried and tested
organisations to the new situation?

More than ten years later two things are clear.

Firstly, the West’s peaceful expansion was only possible because
the time was unique. Russia was in a geopolitical coma and unable
to resist. China was taken up with its own development and was not
yet thinking of a global role. Those countries which had suddenly
gained freedom of action formed a long queue to join all possible
Western organisations.

But as soon as the West lost its monopoly of influence in world
politics, Russia woke up, China became a powerful force and what
had been taken for granted in the ‘90s became an acute problem.

Secondly, it became apparent that those old institutions were
unable to deal with the new challenges. The surprise of the current
financial crisis is the extent to which the International Monetary
Fund, for example, has deteriorated. It is no exaggeration to say
that some 10 years ago this organisation controlled the fates of
such important states as Russia, Mexico, Indonesia, Turkey, South
Korea and Argentina. Today the IMF can only wring its hands and
grieve over uncontrollable markets.

Not one of the structures which, it was supposed, would become
instruments of world government, can manage this function and this
should come as no surprise. They are, after all, the product of a
previous age, when everything was quite different. Some
organisations are not only failing to reinforce stability, but
actually weakening it: from a means of exporting security NATO
expansion has become a catalyst for serious conflict.

As far back as the 1990s the international institutions, which
had not been reformed after the end of the cold war, started
showing signs of dysfunction. At that point the world leader,
instead of taking over the process of transforming the
international system, decided to go its own way and rely on its own
strength and opportunities. The USA had, after all, plenty of both.
The invasion of Iraq in the spring of 2003 was the culminating
point of this approach.

Today almost everyone even in the USA, and in Europe too, has
recognised that the Iraq campaign was a mistake. It seems to me,
however, that the influence of the war against Suddam Hussein on
the atmosphere in the world has been gravely underestimated.

It is clear that in the 21st century, on the basis of false
evidence, bypassing international law and without any kind of
political or legal justification, a sovereign state can be invaded,
its regime overthrown and the country occupied. Military strength,
which during the 1990s was seen to have lost its critical
significance, has now returned to world politics full-scale and in
the most brutal form.

When it turned out that the hyper-power, which had taken the
place of all systems of world government, was overstretched and not
actually able to fulfil the functions it had taken on, the chaotic
nature of world development was revealed. If the invasion of Iraq
was a conscious action by the USA, aimed at realising some or other
plans, then the other flagrant infringement of international law —
the recognition of Kosovo — was the result of impotence. Washington
and the European capitals came to the conclusion that it was easier
to agree to the Kosovars’ demands than to put a painful amount of
effort into trying to achieve an outcome that would have been
acceptable to all.

In conditions of general chaos and dysfunctional institutions
the best course of action is to increase one’s own strength, so as
to be able to react to challenges which are thrown up without
warning. This is what Russia has been doing for the last 5 years
during a period of unprecedented hydrocarbon price increases. In
the wider context one could say that the YUKOS affair, which came
immediately after the occupation of Iraq, was the logical outcome
of events in the Middle East. The state began to firm up its
options in order to increase military efficiency in a hostile
external atmosphere . From this point of view it was absolutely
appropriate to take over control of one of the biggest oil
companies and to remove an influential internal opponent.

Another external challenge was provided by the «colour
revolutions», which took place along Russia’s borders. The popular
idea in Russia that the changes in power in Georgia, Ukraine and
Kirgiziya were the result of a considered US strategy to encircle
Russia is, without a doubt, a simplification. But it cannot be
denied that the external factor — both the policy of Western powers
and the activities of foreign NGOs — played a part that was no less
important than internal interpretations of the changes. The concept
of «sovereign democracy» was a response to just that — an attempt
to protect internal political processes from external

Roderic Lyne in his article asks a justifiable question — what
is Russia’s strategy? There is no answer to this. Russian actions,
or at least those actions that provoke the strongest reaction, are
as a rule a more or less spontaneous reaction to external
irritants. The war with Georgia is no exception, although many in
the West believe it was a clever trap set for Mikhail

But we can ask something else. Do any of the major international
players have a well-considered and long-term strategy? And,
moreover, is this a possibility in today’s world?

How can one consider the policies of the American administration
a strategy if the results are the opposite of what was intended and
future prospects are unclear?

What is the strategy of the EU, now a hostage to the idea of
success and influence and entangled in the insoluble contradiction
between expansion and closer integration? The EU model was anyway
planned for a completely different external environment: initially
it developed under the American security umbrella, and then in the
conditions of a short geopolitical «breathing space».

When we hear the world «strategy» we immediately think of China,
which gives the impression of planned movement towards a goal
decided on some time ago. It is, however, difficult for the moment
to come to any conclusions about the external aims of Beijing or
how clearly they have been formulated — China is still occupied
with its own internal development

Globalisation has been discussed for a long time and a great
deal, but when it comes to the larger political scene, everyone for
some reason continues to consider various elements of the world
palette separately. But in the current situation it is impossible
to draw up the strategy for each individual player: we must first
have an idea of the strategic prospects for world development. This
can only happen as a result of joint efforts initially to
understand the situation, then to work out how to solve the

It has been generally recognised that no one has a clear
understanding of what is happening in the financial markets, which
have broken free of any rational, comprehensible reality. But the
situation in the «marketplace» of big politics is not much better —
the world is too complicated for simple analysis. All the more
powerful is the attraction of patterns we understand, which is the
origin of the burning desire to reconstruct something like the cold
war. Nothing will come of this, however, and the more active the
attempt, the more destructive the outcome.

The stable systems of world order traditionally emerge after
great wars. The cold war was unique in that it ended without
conflict. But the new world order everyone hoped for 20 years ago
has still not materialised and the disintegration of the old is
considering at ever increasing speeds. All big countries face an
enormous intellectual challenge — how to prevent disintegration
reaching its logical conclusion, which would mean huge conflicts,
and how to begin constructing a system which would take account of
the interests of all the countries involved.

I have honestly to say that I do not at the moment see any
particular grounds for optimism.

| Open Democracy