Tapping Into West’s Modernization Reservoir
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

At the beginning of 2008, tensions between Russia and the West
increased with each passing month, reaching a peak in August during
and after the   Russia-Georgia war. That was followed by
a state of suspension with both sides unsure about how events would
unfold. This year started with a gas conflict between Russia and
Ukraine that greatly increased the West’s distrust of Moscow. That
was followed by a gradual relaxation of tensions — a “reset” in
relations with the administration of U.S. President Barack Obama, a
warming of relations with NATO and the European Union, greater
cooperation with the West concerning Iran, a flexible approach to
Ukraine and a call to avoid a new flare-up over gas shipments.

President Dmitry Medvedev articulated his main foreign policy
principles during the state-of-the-nation address in November. He
said, “We must rid ourselves of our exaggerated sense of
self-importance.” He was equally direct when he said, “Instead of
chaotic action dictated by nostalgia and prejudice, we will carry
out an intelligent domestic and foreign policy based on purely
pragmatic aims.”

Medvedev, who is firm in his belief that government policies
need to be more “pragmatic,” said the effectiveness of foreign
policy “should be judged by a simple criterion: Does it contribute
to improving living standards in our country?” He ordered the
government to “develop clear criteria for assessing the results of
Russia’s foreign policy — one that is designed to meet the
challenges of modernization and technological advances.”

But developing specific criteria for what constitutes “pragmatic
government policies” is complicated because the word “pragmatic”
has never been clearly defined in political terms. To make matters
worse, the word has been overused so much that it has lost much of
its meaning.

One passage of his state-of-the-nation address hearkens back to
an earlier speech and also sheds some light on Medvedev’s
understanding of pragmatism. He said: “Our relations with other
countries should also be focused on the task of modernizing Russia.
… We are interested in capital inflows, new technologies and
innovative ideas.” Further, the president said the results of
diplomacy should be reflected “not only in the form of specific
assistance to Russia’s companies abroad and efforts to promote
national commercial brands … but it should also be designed to
increase the volume of foreign investments we attract and, most
important, the influx of new technologies.”

Likewise, in the “Go, Russia!” article Medvedev said: “The
modernization of Russian democracy and the establishment of a new
economy will only be possible if we use the intellectual resources
of post-industrial societies. And we should do so without any
complexes, openly and pragmatically.”

There seems to be nothing new in these statements, and yet their
tone differs from what we are accustomed to hearing from Russia’s
leaders in the post-Soviet period. The task from the early 1990s
until only recently has been the integration of Russia into the
international community of developed countries. The perception of
the conditions for this integration varied because Russia itself
was changing. In the mid-1990s, Russia was overly eager to join
Western institutions on their terms and conditions. And although
Moscow’s policy toward the West changed significantly during
Vladimir Putin’s two presidential terms, the general goal of
integration remained consistent through the Boris Yeltsin and Putin
presidencies — at least up to the last year of Putin’s second

Medvedev has referred to the West several times as a rich source
of investment and technology — a “reservoir” from which Russia can
tap the “intellectual resources of post-industrial societies.” It
is clear that the task of making Russia an integral part of that
reservoir cannot be compromised based on political factors. The
political focus on values, which until recently was the basis of
relations with the West, has clearly ended.

The current shift in Russia’s foreign policy is the result of
various factors. The first reason is that Russia’s leaders are
disappointed with the results of the last 15 years of efforts at

Second, shifts in the global economic balance has weakened the
West’s monopoly on the world’s modernization reservoir. For the
first time ever, the theme of modernization is not tied exclusively
to Europe, but includes the Chinese, South Korean and Singaporean
models of development.

The third reason is historical. It is noteworthy that Medvedev
referred to the modernization programs adopted by Peter the Great
and Josef Stalin, both of which were based on using the West as a
reservoir. This approach rationalizes relations with the West,
lessens the ideological and emotional components and reduces them
to a purely commercial basis. In his “Go, Russia!” article,
Medvedev stated, “The issue of harmonizing our relations with
Western democracies is not a question of taste, personal
preferences or the prerogatives of given political groups.”

Medvedev has a feasible plan to base relations with Europe on
business interests alone. Putin’s recent visit to France, where
officials discussed a wide range of business deals, became a
concrete illustration of Medvedev’s statements. Certain that
profits are more important than ideology for Western countries,
Medvedev said, “We know that our partners are counting on a
rapprochement with Russia to realize their own priorities.” But
betting on pragmatism requires that one condition be fulfilled —
the ability to guarantee the rules of the game. That can be called
a stable investment climate if those guarantees are based on the
rule of law. The other option is authoritarian stability, and this
is achieved through political agreements with members of the ruling

But whatever hopes that Russia’s leaders might hold, the lines
between commerce, state bureaucracy and law enforcement continues
to be blurred. This makes it impossible to give investors any
reliable guarantees. Even when Western corporations believe that
they can still make a profit despite the lack of legal guarantees,
injustices such as the death of corporate lawyer Sergei Magnitsky
will cause many Western investors to think twice before they
increase their Russian exposure.

Russia’s “reservoir philosophy” is aimed at using the resources
of the West to boost technological and economic modernization. The
problem is that it does not set social modernization as its goal.
Russia needs social modernization most of all — without which all
attempts of achieving technological modernization are bound to

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