The Chances and Challenges of the New World
No. 2 2003 April/June
Sergei A. Karaganov

Professor Emeritus
National Research University–Higher School of Economics, Moscow, Russia
Faculty of World Economy and International Affairs
Academic Supervisor;
Council on Foreign and Defense Policy
Honorary Chairman of the Presidium


SPIN RSCI: 6020-9539
ORCID: 0000-0003-1473-6249
ResearcherID: K-6426-2015
Scopus AuthorID: 26025142400


Email: [email protected]
Address: Office 103, 17, Bldg.1 Malaya Ordynka Str., Moscow 119017, Russia

The 300th anniversary of St. Petersburg provides a wonderful
opportunity for reviewing Russia’s record of interaction with
Europe and the rest of the world. History is unlikely to play the
role as the guiding star of modern policymaking, however beneficial
it may be for people to draw correct lessons from it; but mapping
out approaches to the future is definitely impossible without an
acute knowledge of the past. We also depend upon a pragmatic
assessment of the world we live in.

Europeanization Of The World

Russia’s northwest became one of the early cradles of the
Russian state at the end of the first millennium AD. It served as a
channel of communication between the Russian mainland and the rest
of Europe. The old town of Ladoga, located not far from the site of
St. Petersburg, and Novgorod stood on the junctions of the trading
routes between Russia and the Baltic area. These were the
crossroads of civilizations. Russia was a bridge through which the
cultural influences of the Great Byzantium and the Moslem Orient
were reaching a less developed Europe at the time.

Although St. Petersburg is a relatively young city, its
historical record embodies the history of the country which has
been a melting pot of different ethnic groups, cultures and creeds
for over a thousand years. Nationalities with different cultural
and religious backgrounds enriched each other and melted into a
unique civilization, known for its cultural openness and tolerance
of other nations and religions. Academician Dmitry Likhachev, a
great scholar and a refined representative of the St. Petersburg
intelligentsia, made an acute observation that Nevski Prospect, the
city’s major avenue, was Europe’s only main street where an Eastern
Orthodox cathedral (Our Lady of Kazan) could stand side-by-side
with a Lutheran Petrikirche, an Armenian church and a Roman
Catholic cathedral (St. Catherine’s). The city also boasts a
magnificent mosque which is recognized as one of the most beautiful
in Europe; it also plays host to a splendid Buddhist datsan.

For 300 years, the Russian mentality has been firmly associating
St. Petersburg with the road which leads to Europe. The city has
come to symbolize Russia’s continual modernization, as well as its
desire to catch up with the more advanced western parts of Europe
after centuries of tormenting wars and conquests. Although the
modernization was often a forced one, not to mention a heavy burden
on the populace, it was responsible for opening up many new vistas.
Two hundred years of relentless development eventually produced a
culture which enriched the entire European continent.

St. Petersburg also gave birth to a modernization experience of
another sort – the socialist one. It was here that Marxism, a
Western social and political theory, first took root. The Soviet
era produced remarkable achievements, above all, universal general
education and an explosion within the diverse fields of science.
The modernization program, Soviet-style, proved to be too
expensive, however; it kept the nation’s creative potential
restrained, and eventually overtaxed the nation’s total strength.
The Soviet path turned out to be a blind alley and the country,
which sought to catch up with the industrialized nations of the
West, only fell far behind them. The cultural self-isolation the
nation had imposed on itself proved deleterious: it contravened the
very spirit and genetic memory of Russia.

Russia’s military and political confrontation with the wealthy
and advanced countries had a predictably lamentable result. Russia
paid a dear price in order to emerge victorious from World War II,
but it was unable to win in peacetime, postwar settlement and

Now Russia has entered a new stage of modernization, the third
since the early 18th century. The public consciousness views this
process as a natural return to Europe, a continent where Russia
originated, having imbibed the rejuvenating strength of Asian

The present integration into Europe possesses a different color
than decades or centuries ago. European values – human rights,
democracy, personal freedom, inviolability of private property, and
a market economy – have reached out to all corners of the world,
embracing America and large parts of Asia. Of course, each nation
and each region chooses a road of development of their own, yet
today these roads eventually lead to a common civilization. An
increasing number of countries, while retaining their national
traits, now orient themselves to a pattern of development that has
proven to be efficacious.

This “Europeanization” of the world puts an end to the
300-year-old dispute between Russia’s zapadniki (proponents
of sweeping Westernization) and Slavophiles, between liberals and
pochvenniki (people asserting the unique value of native
culture), and – in the last few decades – between Westernizers and
adepts of the Eurasian integrity. Debates between those various
groups of intellectuals were occasionally fruitful and helped the
Russians to decide upon their course of development. But usually
these debates simply distracted public attention away from the more
pressing need for reforms. The disputes were mostly between people
who aspired for integration into the West, as well as for the
opportunity to engage in competition with it, and those who did not
trust any associations with the West. The situation has since
changed, and an orientation with Asia no longer implies a yearning
for a traditionalist, collectivist or authoritarian rule. Both to
its east and to its west, Russia now borders on fast-developing and
competitive cultures with open societies.

Many nations have been unable to integrate into the new
successful cultures. They are mostly located to the south of
Russia’s borders – in Central and South Asia, Africa, and the
Middle East. Russia is facing a simple alternative – either it
orients itself with the wealthy and dynamic democracies, or it
leans toward the poor, degrading or authoritarian regimes. For true
patriots, the dilemma of what option to choose does not exist: it
would be difficult to find one citizen who wants his country
categorized in the second group. The Russians have made their
choice – they have renounced the confrontation that depleted their
state, and the social and economic system that repressed individual
freedom and initiative. Russia has parted with the system that was
increasingly disadvantageous for the weak, that baffled the strong
and proved its historical inefficiency. History showed Russia where
it should move – toward progress, wealth and freedom.

The Challenges Of The New Times

It was originally believed that the path to Europeanism and
Westernization would be a smooth and easy transition; that
transition would be encouraging and peaceful.

The reality turned out to be different in many ways. There were
glaring divisions in economic development, inefficient economic
structures and the demoralization of the elite. Furthermore,
society’s general fatigue after seven decades of Soviet rule, and
the new government’s erroneous policies brought about a horrendous
economic slump and a protracted systemic crisis. The results of the
reforms were mixed and insignificant. The first perceptible effects
were felt only after Russia had achieved a relative political
stability, and people became accustomed to the new economic

The Russians placed their hope for effective reform initiatives
on financial aid and the business acumen from the West; this
support fell short of its expectations. Actually, the support that
was provided very often produced adverse results and simply made
for poor strategies. Russia was given formal signs of respect, for
example, with its official membership in the Group of Eight
industrialized nations; Russia found its status being gradually
enhanced. However, in many other areas, Russia’s opinion was simply
ignored on many important issues, such as the question of NATO
enlargement. Yet, the most important thing was that the outside
world remained friendly all the time, and there was no need to
divert resources for a potential confrontation.

Russia’s renunciation of socialism, together with the ensuing
collapse of the old international system based on ideological,
political and military confrontation, ushered in profound changes
around the world. At the same time, dangerous new threats and
challenges arose alongside the new opportunities; the new threats
took some time to identify themselves.

A range of rapidly unfolding processes, highlighted by the
general term ‘globalization,’ boosted development in the advanced
countries. These countries were able to make use of the new
tendencies, such as an increasing share of foreign trade in the
world’s Gross Domestic Product, the growing amounts and faster pace
of international financial flows, and a multilevel revolution in
information technology. The higher level of economic development
within these countries, largely attributable to their higher
quality of human assets, aggravated the gap between them and the
rest of the world; the role of human knowledge and information as a
productive force became greater than ever before.

This period of change occurred at a time when Russia was
struggling to transform its social and economic systems, and it
missed the new wave of development. Russia has been unable to use
the most precious asset that it inherited from the Soviet times –
the creative potential of its highly educated population. The delay
in carrying out a reform in the general and vocational training
systems – perhaps the main source of Russia’s modernization – may
result in their ultimate collapse. Globalization is a positive
challenge which Russia must meet. Russia must not fence itself off
from globalization, but devise a comprehensive strategy for
adapting to the new processes and trends for the absolute benefits
of its society.

As globalization gains momentum, a degradation of the
international security system is following dangerously in its
footsteps. Conflicts formerly kept in check by the two confronting
military blocs, and by the Cold War discipline in general, are
beginning to flare up again. New standoffs, this time being
propelled by social and economic disparities between or inside
countries have emerged.

In light of this situation, a politically incorrect and even
provocative idea comes to mind. The national liberation movements
that have swept the world between the 1940s and the 1990s
quadrupled the number of independent states. Yet, many of them
remain unviable and unable to achieve economic growth or to ensure
elementary human rights. There are large regions on the planet
where countries are unstable, degrading, and dangerous for their
own populations, as well as for the entire international community.
The experiment with the ‘self-determination of nations’ has
obviously proven unsuccessful.

Social and economic imbalance sparks off public and religious
discord which gives rise to terrorism. Naturally, the international
community’s duty is to consider initiatives to wipe out the
in-depth economic and social causes of terrorism, but the sense of
realism suggests that many social ills have been overly neglected
and are practically irremovable now. That is why radical methods
are required to eliminate them, including the use of force against
terrorist organizations and even countries that sponsor terrorism
or proliferate weapons of mass destruction.

Russia has been hit by terrorism – the plague of the 21st
century – much harder than many other countries. At some point, the
Chechen seat of international terrorism began to spill over into
the neighboring regions and posed a threat to the entire Russian
Federation, as well as the international community. Russia stopped
its spread by force, incurring heavy human losses and high costs.
The Russians realize the importance of decisive struggle against
terrorism much better than people in many other countries; we hope
that the international antiterrorist coalition will be preserved
and further developed.

A possibility that terrorists may gain access to increasingly
destructive technologies makes the danger of terrorism much more
ominous. Technological progress makes weapons of mass destruction
more easily accessible, and the risk of a bad marriage between
international terrorism and WMD proliferation calls for a special
strategy and resolute action on the part of the global community.
No country, however powerful it may be, can solve this problem
alone. Solitary efforts will only give rise to new problems and
provoke overt and covert standoffs.

A desire to obtain weapons of mass destruction is whipped up by
political and military instability in many parts of the globe and
the frequent use of, or threats to use, force, especially outside
the framework of international law. The Yugoslavian and present
Iraqi syndromes may prompt many countries to obtain WMD, thus
provoking a new arms race.

Following a period when military force seemed to have given way
to economic and humanitarian instruments, it is now moving to the
forefront of international politics once again. The world is
becoming less predictable and more dangerous. In view of this,
Russia requires an urgent reform of its general-purpose forces. It
must continue to rely on a rapidly renewable, albeit downsized,
nuclear arsenal as a guarantee of its national security. This is
necessary in order to thwart the possibility of uncivilized conduct
in international politics.

Another source of concern are the persistent imbalances in the
world trade and the consequential growth of protectionist
attitudes, as major countries are striving to solve their economic
problems unilaterally and against the interests of other nations.
These factors jeopardize economic and political stability around
the world.

The situation is further aggravated by a crisis in international
relations management. Many organizations that were set up in a
different epoch and for different purposes have fallen victim to
institutional inertness and are becoming inadequate to the new
challenges. Meanwhile, the world community does not display the
determination and readiness to radically reform old international
institutions or create new ones, thus we are witnessing a
‘governance vacuum.’

The only institution capable of countering this process is the
G-8. To eliminate the ‘governance vacuum,’ it must be vested with
formal functions and have a permanent secretariat so as to make
maximum use of its potential. The secretariat would facilitate
preparations for meetings and verify implementation of the
decisions made (for details, see Recommendations by the Shadow G-8
in this issue).

The European Union, an engine for economic and social
development of the entire European continent and a source of its
unprecedented political stability, has been successfully developing
over several decades. The EU now has a greater say in world
economic issues than before. But its adaptation to the changing
world is not an easy matter. The EU’s common foreign and security
policies are falling short of modern requirements. They are often
formed to provide for the elementary common interests, while
practical solutions melt away amidst bureaucratic inertia. As a
result, the combined efforts of European countries paradoxically
diminish their potential instead of augmenting it. The EU is taking
steps to rectify the situation and Russia has a genuine interest in
Europe playing a crucial role on the international stage, since
Russia and the EU share many of the same goals.

Russia made a historic decision a few years ago when it declared
rapprochement with the EU a top priority of its foreign policy.
Since then, the two parties have developed a mutual understanding
and intensified regular contacts. However, decisions on individual
issues occasionally come too late or never at all. Partly, this is
due to the lack of initiative on the part of the Russian
policymakers in Europe, the inefficiency of Russia’s bureaucratic
machine in managing relations with the EU, and the lack of
dedicated institutions of cooperation.

The EU must also assume a share of the blame. The EU is an
overly bureaucratized mechanism which often strips European
policies of their dynamism and resolve. The Union’s political
decisions get drowned in red tape. The practical results of dialog
between Russia and the EU are occasionally unproductive, especially
on issues of vital importance to Russia: the lifting of trade
restrictions on Russian goods, the easing of visa-issuing
procedures and eventual abolition of visas, and the reduction of
the former Soviet Union’s foreign debt. A breakthrough on these
topics requires an innovative approach to our common prospects.
Lack of flexibility in European regulations often impedes relations
that are critical to both sides.

As an influential force, the EU is a necessary institution to
fill in the ‘governance vacuum’ and to add stability to
international relations. It is also important to prevent a
situation where only one NATO member-state, the U.S., would have a
capability and willingness to counter new threats and choose to act
of its own accord. Such a turn of events would be highly
undesirable – and eventually run counter to America’s own
interests. It is one thing when power rightly serves in a
leadership position amongst a coalition of allies, but it is
something totally different when the ‘leader’ has nobody else to
rely on, and when its power is perceived as a threat of hegemony,
as well as a direct challenge to the world’s security. The latter
case would only augment the ‘governance vacuum’ and bring about new
confrontations and mistakes that may have irreparable

Such a situation actually manifested itself during the war on
Iraq. The unilateral actions of the U.S. and the participation of
its ‘coalition of the willing,’ have outraged a majority of the
world community, including Russia. It also aggravated the
‘governance vacuum’ and further destabilized the world political
environment. The U.S., compelled to wage a war amidst strong
international protests, is undermining its moral and political
repute as a world leader, and undermining the coalition of
countries which have united to confront the new challenges. The
‘unnecessary war’ in Iraq has entailed a huge loss of human lives
and only served to increase the mistrust and hatred within the
Moslem world.

NATO, a traditional security organization, has found itself in a
rather difficult situation. As its historical mission was fully
completed by the early 1990s, there were calls for reform; the
organization needed to be remade as a viable tool for countering
new threats. If NATO had wisely followed that line and established
a solid alliance with Russia, it would have given birth to an
entirely new security system. But inertia and old habits prevailed,
and NATO chose to simply expand and initiate useless cosmetic
reforms. Numerous problems eventually emerged in its relations with
Russia, and much energy was spent in unfruitful discussions.

In the long run, NATO came to a position where it is now –
overlooking the backwater of world politics. Russia is prepared to
cooperate with the bloc in a new format which both sides are now
constructing. Unlike in the past few years, the Russia-NATO dialog
is becoming more constructive and useful for both sides. Yet many
in Russia have doubts as to whether NATO, which has missed a good
opportunity for development, will be able to become an efficient
instrument of international security in the new environment.

Russia is also watching with alarm the rise of controversies
within the traditional North Atlantic community. Their causes are
well known. To list just a few, the member states have developed
contradictory values after their common enemy disappeared; the
divisions between the defensive and political capabilities of
different NATO countries have been growing; and the U.S. has been
demonstrating a propensity for unilateral military actions. An
aggravation of these tendencies presents many dangers for the
world. Today, unity of all responsible countries and their
continued efforts to combat international terrorism are of crucial
importance. Thus, there have been growing suggestions in Russia
that it should assume the role of a ‘political bridge’ connecting
the two continents.

Europe has a range of other organizations contributing to the
general European process. Eventually, the Europeans will have to
revise the inventory of those institutions and to estimate their
expedience with regard to meeting current and future

The United Nations, as the world’s central body monitoring
international law and order, also stands in need of modernization.
Many analysts justly point to the deficiencies of that institution.
True, the UN was established in a different epoch, but it remains
the sole all-embracing institution for maintaining peace. Russia
believes one of its priorities is to help strengthen this
institution, specifically, the vital decision-

making arm of the UN Security Council. Undermining the UN is
inadmissible now that many other international organizations are
losing strength and are suffering deep divisions. A divorce from
the UN structures and political procedures is tantamount to
plunging into chaos.

This does not mean, however, that the UN system is immune to
change. The Security Council needs to be reformed to markedly
increase its efficiency, specifically by admitting new major powers
and, presumably, by introducing the principle of a qualified veto,
in which case decisions will not be endorsed if two countries use
their veto power.

The Iraq crisis, which triggered heated disputes among the
Security Council’s permanent members, calls for certain
conclusions. We cannot accept a situation where the UN obeys one
country or a minority of countries, while acting against the
opinion of a majority of states, including Russia. Nor is it
admissible to ignore decisions of the Security Council. Russia and
other members of the international community should have been more
insistent that Iraq unconditionally fulfill its commitments for
disarmament, eliminate all banned weapons, stop mass violations of
human rights, and genocide (use of chemical weapons against Kurds).
The painful crisis could have been avoided in that case.

Upkeep of the antiterrorist coalition is critical for consistent
efforts to prevent and counter new challenges that mankind may face
in the next few decades. In the early 1990s, the international
community lost the chance to build a union that would maintain
peace and stability. Such a union could have been built around the
coalition set up to repel the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, but it
simply failed due to the short-sightedness and insignificant
discords among its members. It would be irresponsible to lose such
a chance again.

The antiterrorist coalition that emerged after Sept. 11th must
lay the foundation for a new union to avert threats and to build a
stable and just world order. Initially, it may comprise the G-8
countries, and later include other key nations, such as China and
India. The alliance may become an executive body of the UN Security

Russia must insist that international problems be addressed on a
multilateral basis. Unilateral actions are acceptable only in real
emergencies when there is a direct threat to a country’s vital

Russia’s Policy In The 21st Century

The reality calls for adoption of new principles in Russia’s
foreign policy to ensure a favorable environment for the country’s
modernization. Russia should not squander its political and, most
importantly, economic resources, and should focus them on top
priority tasks. It implies a pragmatic policy that would avoid
confrontation, unless vital national interests are concerned. These
include territorial integrity, security for Russian nationals, and
maximum sovereignty. In all other cases, Russia should remain above
conflicts or get involved only as a mediator or peacekeeper.

Russia’s other top priorities include maintenance of peace and
stability in the former Soviet republics and mutually advantageous
reintegration with some of them.

Russia’s foreign policy must be oriented toward an integration
into the world economy that would bring her maximum benefit, boost
domestic social and economic reforms and will help raise the living
standards. This policy implies broad cooperation with other
developed countries in the knowledge sphere, which is essential for
developing human assets – the main factor of Russia’s future

Efforts to build an alliance with advanced democratic nations do
not mean that Russia will neglect cooperation with other countries
or stand in the rear of the more powerful nations. We must be
active where we can benefit. Variegated approach guarantees
flexibility in foreign relations in the fast-changing modern

Gaining economic benefits must become a major guideline of our
foreign policy. Upholding national interests, as well as the
interests of Russian businesses and major groups of the population,
has a clear priority over many geopolitical ambitions or other such
elements of prestige. Unlike the 19th or 20th centuries, the two
latter principles cannot govern foreign policy in the 21st century.
By making the global community respect Russia’s economic interests,
we will make much headway toward becoming a modern power. Russia’s
preparation to act within the new conditions will be demonstrated
by its capability to reserve a place for itself in the postwar
peacekeeping efforts in Iraq and the rebuilding of that

Over the last 300 years, Russia has experienced both ups and
downs. Internal upheavals caused it to miss some important
opportunities of the 20th century, but now it has a fair chance of
winning the new century and becoming a major pillar of the new
world. If Russia succeeds, it will make its way into the world not
through the “window to Europe” cut by Peter the Great 300 years
ago, but through a wide-open door.