“Fifty years ago the streets of Leningrad taught me a lesson: if a fight is inevitable, hit first.” These words by Vladimir Putin have become a most quoted phrase of the past fall. Said at the Valdai International Discussion Club, it unambiguously conveys the underlying principle of Russia’s current foreign policy. As Sergei Minasyan writes in his article, this is the second time the Kremlin’s abrupt and large-scale military-political actions have caught everyone off guard. In his opinion, the Middle East will most likely be the focal point of Russia’s activities in the coming – and probably long – period.
The focus will be on the entire region, for the Syrian crisis has encompassed and crystallized an array of the most acute and entangled contradictions in this part of the world. Having stepped in the Syria collision, Russia cannot stay away from the swirl of developments unfolding in the region. One such development is the unexpected and instant drawing of Egypt in the tensions over the Russian plane crash in Sinai. The bloodcurdling terrorist attacks in Paris signify a new stage in the sprawl of instability. The inevitability of a major fight has now reached Europe and the downing of a Russian bomber by Turkey has brought it to the dangerous point of a potential direct interstate conflict.
This issue features the views of panelists in the discussion organized by the Council on Foreign and Defense Policy on how Russia can complete its operation in Syria effectively and safely and what should be viewed as a success. Shakhmardan Amirov offers a detailed overview of Syria’s past and present, trying to understand what may happen in the future. Vassily Kuznetsov speaks about the Islamic State’s chances to build a new form of statehood in the region where all the previous ones are in crisis. Yevgeny Satanovsky insists that the role of the West in the Middle East will continue to decline amid ever more dramatic cataclysms.
While the West in general and the United States in particular seem to be “beating a retreat” in the Middle East, Washington is increasing its presence in the Far East. Yaroslav Lissovolik analyzes the just-signed Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement and concludes that it seeks to create a new mechanism for organizing and regulating the world economy, naturally under the U.S. leadership. Timofei Bordachev ponders a possible response from major Eurasian states to the West’s efforts to revise the existing principles of the global economy in favor of mega blocs. He believes that the integration of Russian and Chinese initiatives will consolidate Eurasia. Alexei Ivanov and Kirill Molodyko maintain that as the regulatory and normative system is falling into “interest groups,” relations between them are increasingly regulated through mutual restrictions and sanctions, which will no longer be an exception but rather the rule.
Andrei Frolov mulls over potential military-political threats to Russia in 20-25 years from now. Yakov Mirkin examines what kind of foreign policy Russia can afford in its current economic situation. His conclusions are not very encouraging: Russia is boxing above its weight. Nikolai Kosolapov offers his understanding of how Russia’s national interests should be formulated and questions whether this very term is applicable to Russia.
Feng Shaolei writes about China’s key strategies in the 21st century. Alexander Lomanov offers an insight into China’s domestic political discourse. Yevgeny Rumyantsev analyzes Beijing’s interpretation of World War II which pushes China onto center stage. Alexei Miller talks about the role of history in countries’ current policies and the responsibility of historians.
In our next issue we will closely examine the phenomenon of “belligerent Russia” and try to dip in its near future. We will also look at the latest developments in Ukraine and around it, the Middle East and other “fights.”