Russia and the World in the 21st Century
No. 3 2008 July/September
Sergei V. Lavrov

Russian Foreign Minister since 2004

In modern international relations it is difficult to find a more
fundamental issue than the definition of the current stage in
global development. This is important for any country in order to
correlate a development strategy and a foreign policy with the
vision of the world we live in. It seems that a consensus is
already being formed on this score, albeit at the level of the
expert community both in Russia and abroad. This is largely a
consequence of debates, on which Russia insisted. Moreover, this
emerging consensus largely reproduces the analysis which Russia
offered as a starting position for discussion in Vladimir Putin’s
speech in Munich in February 2007.

It is already obvious that individual problems of world politics
cannot be solved without understanding the “big issues” of global
development and without reaching a common vision of them in the
international community.

I will try to outline some of these issues, which are directly
related to the building of Russia’s foreign-policy strategy.


There is already no doubt that the end of the Cold War marked
the end of a longer stage in global development, which lasted for
400 to 500 years and when the world was dominated by European
civilization. This domination was consistently led by the
historical West.

As regards the content of the new stage in humankind’s
development, there are two basic approaches to it among countries.
The first one holds that the world must gradually become a Greater
West through the adoption of Western values. It is a kind of “the
end of history.” The other approach – advocated by Russia – holds
that competition is becoming truly global and acquiring a
civilizational dimension; that is, the subject of competition now
includes values and development models.

The new stage is sometimes defined as “post-American.” But, of
course, this is not “a world after the United States,” the more so
without the U.S. It is a world where – due to the growth of other
global centers of power and influence – the relative importance of
the U.S. role has been decreasing, as it has already happened in
recent decades in the global economy and trade. Leadership is
another matter, above all a matter of reaching agreement among
partners and a matter of ability to be the first – but among

Various terms have been proposed to define the content of the
emerging world order, among them multi-polar, polycentric and
nonpolar. The latter characteristic is given, in particular, by
Richard Haass. It is difficult not to agree
with him that power and influence are now becoming diffused. But
even the former director of policy planning for the U.S. State
Department admits that ensuring the governability of global
development in the new conditions requires establishing a core
group of leading nations. That is, in any case the matter at hand
is the need for collective leadership, which Russia has been
consistently advocating. Of course, the diversity of the world
requires that such collective leadership be truly representative
both geographically and civilizationally.

We do not share the apprehensions that the ongoing
reconfiguration in the world will inevitably bring about “chaos and
anarchy.” It is a natural process of forming a new international
architecture – both political and financial-economic – that would
meet the new realities.

One such reality is the return of Russia to global politics, the
global economy and finance as an active, full-fledged actor. This
refers to our place on the world energy and grain markets; to our
leadership in the field of nuclear energy and space exploration; to
our capabilities in the sphere of land, air and sea transit; and to
the role of the ruble as one of the most reliable world
Unfortunately, the Cold War experience has distorted the
consciousness of several generations of people, above all political
elites, making them think that any global policy must be
ideologized. And now, when Russia is guided in international
affairs by understandable, pragmatic interests, void of any
ideological motives whatsoever, not everyone is able to adequately
take it. Some people say we have some “grievances,” “hidden
agendas,” “neo-imperial aspirations” and all that stuff. This
situation will hardly change soon, as the matter at issue is
psychological factors – after all, at least two generations of
political leaders were brought up in a certain ideological system
of coordinates, and sometimes they are simply unable to think in
categories beyond those frameworks. Other factors include quite
specific, understandably interested motives pertaining to
privileges that the existing global financial-economic architecture
gives to individual countries.


Russia views itself as part of a European civilization with
common Christian roots. The experience of this region offers
material that can be used to simulate forthcoming global processes.
Thus, even a superficial analysis suggests the conclusion that the
overcoming of the Cold War has not solved the problem of ways for
social development. Rather, it has only helped to avoid extreme
approaches and come closer to its solution on a more realistic
basis – especially considering that ideological considerations very
often distorted the effect of market forces, as well as the idea of
The rigid Anglo-Saxon model of socio-economic development has again
started to fail, as it did in the 1920s. This time, the failure is
due to the isolation of the U.S. financial system from the real
sector of economy. On the other hand, there is the socially
oriented Western European model, which was a product of European
society’s development throughout the 20th century, including the
tragedies of the two world wars, the Cold War, and the Soviet
Union’s experience. The Soviet Union played no small role in this
process, as it not only served as the “Soviet threat” that
consolidated the West, but also motivated Western Europe to
“socialize” its economic development.

Therefore, by proclaiming the goal of creating a socially
oriented economy, the new Russia appeals to our common European
heritage. This is yet more evidence of Russia’s compatibility with
the rest of Europe.

The end of the Cold War coincided in time with attempts to unify
European development according to the Anglo-Saxon model. However,
there is an impression that Europe will hardly give up its
development model which meets its views of life and which has a
more solid financial and economic foundation. Rebalancing is
possible and, apparently, inevitable on both sides of the Atlantic.
This brings to mind Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal policy,
which marked a time of convergence in America’s development.

Probably, a synthesis of various models – as a process, rather
than a final result – will be a key trend in global development in
the foreseeable future. Accordingly, the multiformity of the
contemporary world, which reflects its more fundamental
characteristic – cultural and civilizational diversity, will
remain. One can also assume that in order to make the global “rules
of the game” more effective in these conditions, they must be freed
from ideology.

A different, unifying approach would lead to interventionism – a
strategy that is hardly realistic, since its effectiveness can be
achieved only in a transition toward global imperial construction.
Movement in that direction would increase tensions in global and
regional politics and would exacerbate unsolved global problems –
as seen from the current aggravation of the global food
These factors speak in favor of pluralism on a wide range of social
development parameters as a non-alternative and, most importantly,
non-confrontational way for the international community’s existence
at the present stage.

Whatever the circumstances of what is called the valorization of
natural resources, this trend is creating conditions for moving
toward equalization of development levels in the contemporary
world. The task is to create modalities and mechanisms for the
effective use of redistributed global financial resources for the
purpose of universal development. Thus, sovereign wealth funds
already participate in refinancing the U.S. banking system.


International experts, including American ones, write about a
“world turned upside down” and criticize the “weak dollar” policy.
What is remarkable is the analysis of Henry Kissinger, who writes
that “the International Monetary Fund as presently constituted is
an anachronism” and who even points to the need of restoring moral
aspects in economic and financial activities.

One cannot but agree with Kissinger’s statement about the
emergence of a gap between the economic and political orders in the
world. But we must clarify something in this regard. First, there
is no reasonable alternative to a global political architecture
relying on the United Nations and the rule of international law.
Let us not forget that the UN was created even before the beginning
of the Cold War for use in a multipolar international system. In
other words, its potential can be fully tapped only now.

Second, the global financial-economic architecture was largely
created by the West to suit its own needs. And now that we are
watching the generally recognized shift of financial-economic power
and influence toward new fast-growing economies, such as China,
India, Russia and Brazil, the inadequacy of this system to the new
realities becomes obvious. In reality, a financial-economic basis
is needed that would conform to the polycentricity of the
contemporary world. Otherwise, the governability of global
development cannot be restored.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev spoke about this in detail in
Berlin and at the St. Petersburg Economic Forum. The reform of
international institutions will be among the subjects to be
discussed at the upcoming Group of Eight summit in Hokkaido, Japan.
So the urgency of the matter evokes no doubt among our G8 partners,
either. Russia is ready to participate constructively in this joint


I think that as soon as these big issues are duly grasped, it
will be easier to solve all the other issues, including the range
of problems in relations within the Euro-Atlantic region.

Fyodor Tyutchev [a 19th-century Russian poet] wrote that “by the
very fact of its existence Russia negates the future of the West.”
We can refute Tyutchev only by acting together – building a common
future for the whole Euro-Atlantic region and for the whole world,
in which security and prosperity will be truly indivisible.

New things scare people. At the same time, they are inevitable.
And there is only one rational response to this challenge – accept
this reality. When they scare us with the threat of “anarchy” in
the contemporary world (which is very Russian-like, but done, as a
rule, from the outside), they forget that any system can be
self-regulatory. This requires effective, adequate institutions,
which should be created.

I would like to make it clear: Russia, as no other country,
understands the painfulness of the current changes. No one can get
away from them. Moreover, as experience shows, adaptation at the
level of foreign policy can only result from serious changes within
the states themselves. Therefore Russia has quite realistic
expectations regarding when changes should be awaited in the
foreign policy philosophy of its international partners.

In contemporary conditions, it is hardly appropriate to speak in
terms of “challenges” thrown down by some states to others. This
only results in too much focus in foreign-policy strategies on
virtual dangers. The interdependence brought about by globalization
motivates no one to “throw down challenges” to whomever. And Russia
is the last one to need this: we have enough problems of our own,
which we are well aware of; at the same time, we understand the
interests of our partners. What is dangerous is a lack of
cooperation and holding aloof from the problems of one’s partner –
which makes collective actions to address common tasks

Each country and each nation have had enough national
catastrophes and tragedies in their history. The longer the
history, the more positive and negative events it comprises. I
fully agree with Vladislav Inozemtsev who maintains that the Soviet
Union and the United States, even when they confronted each other,
remained remarkably alike. Often our actions, taken in the name of
the assertion of opposite ideals, were remarkably similar in the
means involved and their practical consequences.

There has always existed an interrelation between Russia and the
United States. Alexis de Tocqueville predicted a common future for
our countries way back in the 19th century. This interrelation also
showed itself in the fact that after 1917 the U.S. gradually and
even unwillingly replaced Russia in the European balance. It is
another matter that there is currently no longer any need for
Europe to have external balancers, be it Russia or the U.S. We
understand this very well – and this is why we come out for equal
relations in a tripartite format involving Russia, the European
Union and the U.S.

In the 20th century, this interrelation was corroborated by
convergence events that were not only limited to the New Deal of
Franklin D. Roosevelt and allied relations within the anti-Hitler
coalition. Thus, the election of John F. Kennedy as U.S. president
can be attributed, among other things, to America’s reaction to the
Soviet Union’s rise – not only technological and
military-technical, but also spiritual, at the level of an entirely
new attitude to the world, which stemmed from Khrushchev’s Thaw and
the completion of the postwar reconstruction. Kennedy made a bold
attempt to overcome the logic of militarization of foreign-policy
thinking, of whose danger his predecessor had warned.
Unfortunately, later the pendulum of foreign-policy philosophy
swung toward politics based on instincts and ideological prejudice.
Now everyone is wondering when this pendulum will swing back, which
will show what kind of America the world will have to deal

Russian-U.S. relations would benefit greatly from the
establishment of an atmosphere of mutual trust and mutual respect,
which characterized the relationship between the presidents of the
two countries over the last eight years but which not always showed
itself at the lower levels. Paradoxically, there was more mutual
trust and respect between the two states during the Cold War.
Perhaps, it was because there was less lecturing then about what a
state should be and how it should behave. There was awareness of
the need – and the desire – to address issues that were truly
significant for our two countries and the whole world.

We understand that America is facing difficult tasks. On the
positive side, we see that the understanding is beginning to
prevail that these are problems, above all, of America itself,
including its ability to accept “a world with a diversity of voices and
.” Intellectual rigidity will only restrain America’s
inherent ability to adapt to changing realities. History “happens”
to all countries and peoples, and this refers to Russia much more
than to any other country. But this factor teaches tolerance,
without which neither empires nor simply normal equal relations
between states can survive.
It is gratifying that in the course of the current U.S.
presidential campaign voices are growing louder in favor of
preserving and developing the disarmament and arms control process.
Such cooperation alone would be enough to ensure stability for our
bilateral relations, until there is mutual readiness for their
substantial modernization in accordance with the requirements of
the times.


The issue of the destiny of the diverse European civilization
now presents itself in a new way. At the political level, there is
a need for equal interaction among its three independent, yet
related, component parts. The confrontational paradigm of
intra-European relations of the Cold War era is giving way to a
cooperation paradigm. This means tolerance of dissent, and
pluralism of views and positions. Democracy is always historical
and national by nature.

The proposals put forward by President Medvedev in Berlin are
based on a sober analysis of the situation. The European
architecture, established back in the Cold War years, prevents
overcoming the negative dynamics set by inertia approaches of the
past and by contradictions accumulating in European affairs. There
remains only one thing to do, and that is to look further than what
we have; that is, to try and create something that would unite the
entire Euro-Atlantic region at the level of principles, by which we
should be guided in our relations. After that, we will be able to
move on. But without this clarity it will be difficult to create a
critical mass of confidence that is required for building positive,
forward-looking relations in our region. The importance of
principles follows, for example, from the fact that at the annual
OSCE ministerial meetings we have for years been unable to achieve
any accord on reiteration by all states-parties of their adherence
to the principles of the Helsinki Final Act. What more proof is
required to prove the ailment of all Euro-Atlantic politics?

There is a need for a positive process, including convening a
pan-European summit, in order to fill the political vacuum emerging
in the Euro-Atlantic region, and to make up a positive agenda,
which we lack so badly now. Over time, we could determine which
elements of European architecture are promising and which are not,
what stands in our way, and what we can take with us into the
future. Why not insure ourselves, especially when much is still
unclear? That would not be a means of pressure on any existing
structure or organization. The matter at issue would be the
creation of a new atmosphere of confidence in our region, which
could help to take a new look at the relevance of the arms control
process, as well. Let us develop it on a modern universal basis,
rather than along bloc lines. Otherwise, the legacy that we have
inherited from the previous epoch will only create a feeling that a
war in Europe is still possible.

We all should think and look around – this is the meaning of the
pause that we suggest. But this means that all projects should be
frozen where they are now, be it Kosovo’s unilateral declaration of
independence, the implementation of plans to deploy elements of a
U.S. global missile defense system in Eastern Europe, or NATO’s
eastward expansion – because any desire to complete – at any cost
and by a specific date – the implementation of what causes strong
rejection among partners and what threatens to ruin established
relations, will cause a reaction. This vicious circle must be

What is the alternative? A further accumulation of “electricity”
in the atmosphere of Euro-Atlantic relations? Do we really need to
continue making blunders? Will it be good for all of us if we watch
from the outside how, for example, the European Union proves its
post-modernity, or NATO, its efficiency in Afghanistan? Likewise,
we would not want our partners to remain aloof from the
implementation of the project for Russia’s modernization.

Finally, we all should step over ourselves and stop the
unnecessary talk about “veto power” outside the UN Security
Council, about “spheres of influence” and the like. We can very
well do without all that, as there are more important things where
we undoubtedly have common interests. We must build confidence and
develop skills for joint work in truly significant strategic
matters. Then many things will look different. Let life decide and
put everything in its place. What really depends on us and what
demands political decisions is that we must stop sliding into the
past, into an absurdity that we all will be ashamed of. And history
will not forgive us, either. Is it not in our common interest to
have “a coherent Europe,” all parts of which are united by
workable relations”?


Everyone has their own problems; everyone has something to do.
The U.S. electorate is about to make a choice. The European Union
is in the process of adaptation. In EU countries, processes of
ethno-religious self-determination are ripening – both among the
indigenous population and recent immigrants. “Rich” regions aspire
to their independent existence in order not to pay for the
development of “poor” regions within one and the same state. This
is a serious test for the EU’s commitment to the ideas of tolerance
and solidarity.

Psychologically, it is easy to understand those who wish to
leave everything the way it is, in order to die in the Europe or
the America in which they were born. But the rapid changes do not
allow such a luxury. They presuppose, among other things,
civilizational compatibility, and tolerance not only in word but
also in deed. And this will be hard to achieve in conditions when
militant secularism acts from positions that differ little from an
official religion.

No less importantly, the time has come to address global
problems which the world had no time to address during the Cold
War. There were other, ideological priorities then. If not now,
then when will we fight global poverty, hunger and diseases? The
international community has not achieved much progress yet.

We see nothing in our approach that would be contrary to the
principles of rationality, intrinsic in Europeans’ attitude to the
world. Acting differently means piling up problems upon problems
and making the future of Europe and the entire Euro-Atlantic region
hostage to hasty decisions. That would be a huge waste of time,
resulting in a multitude of lost opportunities for joint action. We
are not hurrying anyone; we only urge all nations to think together
about what is awaiting us. But a breakthrough into our common
future requires new, innovative approaches. The future belongs to