21.11.2005
Torn Between Two Choices
№4 2005 October/December

In order to understand the controversies unveiled by the process
of globalization, as well as to see Russia’s actual place within
these processes, we must first recognize two fundamental truths.
First, competition between the two differing global projects has
been unfolding within Eurasia since before the invention of
writing. Second, it is important to discern the specific nature of
the current moment apart from the hitherto unknown influences that
have come into play today.

A look at inscriptions left behind by the first small lords who
ruled in Mesopotamia 5,000 years ago suggests they proudly called
themselves the rulers of all four sides of the world. They were the
first ones to make claims to global domination; sometime later, the
tendency repeated itself in China.

These historical truths reveal several important facts. First,
the Oriental vector of globalization is antecedent to the Western
vector and, second, it is soaked in ideology since its aspiration
for standing at the helm of the world has no resources to draw
upon.

The European model, on the contrary, has never, even in much
later epochs – in ancient Greece, despite the fact that they viewed
the rest of the world as barbarians, and in Rome in the first few
centuries of its history – focused on ideology. Alexander the Great
set out for the Orient only after two massive Persian interventions
in the Balkans and a multitude of cases of repression against the
Greeks. Even then, his purpose for going to war was mainly to
recover lost spoils. The official slogan of that campaign was to
win back the desecrated shrines or, simply speaking, precious
utensils and decorations that the Medes had taken out of
continental Greece.

The Macedonian Military Council insisted that Alexander, their
ruler, take hold – with a full measure of responsibility – of the
huge amount of defenseless power lying prostrate before him only
after he had defeated the Persian king Darius, whose armies had
finally run away and dispersed, for a third time.

One possible conclusion from the above is that the Western
geopolitical project has a secondary role compared with the
Oriental project; it actually responds to the Oriental challenge
and its basic difference lies in its pragmatism. It develops an
imperial mindset only after it acquires the resources for
implementing it.

A similar thing happened to the Quirites. Early in their
history, they twice dealt crushing blows to Carthage on their own
territory (first at a request from Greece and second while
defending Rome from Hannibal). They achieved a third such victory
in Africa, which made them conclude – only after victory – that
they had responsibility for the entire Mediterranean region,
although Conservatives in the Senate tried to block the people’s
willingness to take care of anything more than their own land. As
for the Latin world’s ideology, which was the first global power to
embrace the whole civilized world, that appears much later than the
events herein describe.

Byzantine, if viewed from the angle of this opposition,
continued the political traditions of the Western model, while the
Franks – who admired Byzantine on the one hand, and wished to
destroy it on the other because it was the heir apparent to the
Roman Empire – realized that perfectly well. Let us recall,
however, that the Byzantine system had parties, municipalities, a
parliament, and philosophy at a time when the West lacked anything
similar, even in its basic outlines.

Democratic institutions and self-government were primarily
revived in the West in the cities that provisionally returned to
the rule of Constantinople from the Goths – Venice, Florence and
Genoa. They influenced the rise of parliaments in England and
Iceland at a much later epoch. Interestingly, the fall of
Byzantium, which signaled the end to the first stage of the Western
global political project, coincided with a prelude to its
transition to the second stage, manifest by the colonial system of
European kingdoms through their great geographic discoveries.

As colonialism fell, neo-colonialism, economic
transnationalization and finally, contemporary economic
globalization as an offspring of its predecessor, rose up before
our eyes. This means that the Western global project has proven to
be successful and uninterrupted over a period of over two thousand
years.

In the meantime, quite the opposite has transpired with its
Oriental antipode, which arose much earlier than the Western
project and ignited the latter’s activity, but it has never come to
maturity. The Arab Caliphate drew close to the might of Rome only
in terms of territory, and that is why today’s Arab extremists
regularly evoke its power. It existed as a single organism for just
a few decades and did not leave behind any successors that could
compare with it in the scale and reach.

China of the Han era eventually collapsed as well, while
external aggressors held it together. In later epochs, new
aggressors – the Mongols and the Manchus – pulled it together once
again. The same function was performed by an imported ideology in
the 20th century.

The Ottoman Empire never enjoyed global power either – it had
looser controls than the Caliphate, while large European colonial
empires fringed its borders. Moreover, the whole notion of ‘the
civilized world’ had changed by that time.

Thus, the Oriental project proved to be impracticable and
infected with a virus of internal collapse.
It appears then that pragmatism is a stabilizing force, while
ideologized projects, even derivations witnessed in Rome, Byzantium
or the colonial networks, are not. What I am speaking about here is
political models and their ability – or inability – to retain their
main essence in the process of transformation and adapt to new
circumstances. I am not speaking about individual examples of those
models, since we know perfectly well that Western empires fell
apart as well.
However, if we look at the cultural aspect of history in its
traditional sense, the picture is entirely different.

The Orient spreads its cultural influences right into the heart
of the Occident. The tendency is traced everywhere, from the Roman
cults of Cybele and Isis to Christianity and later to Hinduism,
Buddhism and Taoism. In contrast, after the colonizers relinquished
political control over different parts of Asia, Christianity –
eagerly assimilated by the Europeans – failed to take root
throughout Asia, unlike its native Islam. The Philippines seems to
be an exception in this case rather than the rule.
The legend about the Rape of Europa offers the best metaphor for
the real situation with regard to many basic cultural skills and
knowledge. In light of this, the Americans should not have been so
astonished by the turn of events, since globalization is a two-way
street – they somehow overlooked the fact that this has always been
so.

This opposite movement provides an explanation for the tense
standoff evidenced in the situation. While one project is seeking
to add its cultural preferences to political dominance, the other
project is thrusting forward political ideas as an appendage to
cultural dominance. However, Nature hates excessive uniformity,
since uniformity is the soul of emptiness.

Now we must ask what part Russia plays in all of this. One of
the theories popular inside and outside the country is that Russia
has always been an Oriental satrapy. This is wrong, and there are
many ways to prove it.

Varangians founded Russia, which built all of its contacts
before the Mongol conquest and afterwards with the Europeans.
Russia’s dynastic bonds with Europe were abundant. The Golden
Horde’s control over Russia’s principalities was purely formal
already 80 years after the conquest, and the bows of respect Moscow
Prince Ivan the Moneybag made at the khan’s court were very
pragmatic. Traditions of democracy in northwest Russia and
generally among tradesmen are fairly well known.
Ivan the Terrible fell formally into the Oriental format with a
project proclaiming Moscow to be the ‘Third Rome,’ but instead of
waging war against Constantinople or the Western Christians, which
he should have been expected to launch, he fought for control over
Astrakhan and Kazan, the Tatar fortresses that blocked lucrative
trade routes. As for Latin Christians, he voluntarily met with some
of them on one occasion while searching for ice-free ports to trade
with the Hanseatic cities, Holland and England. This act, however,
was sheer pragmatism.

Another popular example is Peter the Great. We know quite well
he did not introduce dramatic novelties into the policy of the
early Romanovs, except for eccentricity and new resources, although
he did enhance his measures with a strong new impulse. It was
thanks to Peter that Russia gained membership within the European
family of nations.

Russia began its first Oriental project in 1917. This was to be
a global and permanent revolution, the logical extension of which
was a global republic of Soviets. There was a great lack of
resources, as the Russian Social-Democratic and workers’ movement
lacked the unity to implement their grandiose plans. The money was
in short supply, too: the Bolsheviks had to become traitors in
order to get the necessary funds for a revolution even in one
country. The aid did not produce the desired effect, however
limited (geographically) the actual use of the money was in
reality.

The paradox is that Russia continued to implement Western-style
initiatives in the East. Industrialization, its policies in Central
Asia and in the Caucasus, in Afghanistan and in Chechnya – these
were instances of Westernization, in terms of reproduced matrixes,
not methods.

Since the Oriental project contains an inherent mechanism for
self-destruction, the Warsaw Pact fell apart. The Soviet Union,
which Gorbachev had failed to bring to the West, was the next to
collapse. Other Communist federations – Czechoslovakia and
Yugoslavia – collapsed, too. The Oriental mechanism is the
root-cause of problems in Georgia, Ukraine and Moldova with their
quasi-autonomous regions; it explains the feeble cohesion within
the Commonwealth of Independent States. Finally, it explains
Russia’s threat of disintegration as well.

Unless Russia works toward change, the threat of disintegration
will be great. The belief that one’s country is a great power
without due care for its real dignity is nothing more than
downright ideology. Become a great power if you can, and everyone
will agree with you. This is how it happened with the U.S. in the
20th century after it got control of key international transport,
energy, financial and information arteries. That was a pragmatic
approach.

To avoid the worst, Russia must look westwards. Russia’s
readiness to join the West’s two major structures, NATO and the
European Union, will attest to its earnest intentions. Since
joining the EU would inevitably be a dragged-out process for many
reasons, NATO remains the only choice, at least its political
wing.

Joining this organization does not menace our sovereignty in any
way. The forty-year-long instance set by France, and the NATO
members’ refusal to send a collective contingent to Iraq, proves
that the bloc offers a broad road for freedom. Nor should we
demonize the procedure of decision-making within NATO, since
cooperativeness and diktat are quite different things.

Frankly speaking, NATO does not yearn to embrace Russia, but
there was a time when it did. In the early 1990s, I personally held
consultations on this subject with NATO Secretary General Manfred
W?rner and Ambassador Amedeo de Franchis. Then there was an
unsuccessful attempt in 2001. Russia’s best opportunity to forward
its application for membership was on May 9, Victory Day. Sixty
years ago, Russia and Europe confronted a common enemy and we
united into a coalition. Today, we confront another common enemy,
so why should we not be members of the same alliance?

Naturally, President Vladimir Putin will have to discuss the
idea via telephone with key figures to avoid another flop, but I
feel optimistic about the chances. Why? The West is beginning to
develop a realization of the Chinese threat now, which it did not
have immediately following the events of Sept. 11.

What does this mean for Russia? First, applying for NATO
membership would be a patriotic move, as it will help to maintain
our territorial integrity. Second, through our membership in the
most powerful defense organization of the northern hemisphere,
Russia will get an extra layer of protection in addition to our own
forces. Third, we will drop at least one – Western – vector of the
three existing vectors of rebuffing the external threat.
Consequently, we will gain the freedom of maneuverability, a chance
to reorient investment to fundamental research and development,
including research in defense technologies that lie within our
domain of responsibility. Opportunities for other forms of
cooperation will also broaden. Finally, the doors to the defense
sector markets may open for Russian and European technologies that
are presently closed.

The West has its interest, too. In the first place, it will
acquire a predictable ally. Second, Russia’s membership will round
out the Euro-Atlantic security system in the northern quarter of
the globe in the Pacific, thus making the system complete and
logical. Finally, the Western political project will regain its
inborn pragmatism.
America’s impetuous drive to democratize the East has thrust that
project into a political heresy, as the Western powers idolize just
one version of democracy, and this idolization does not bring the
much-desired dividends. More importantly, it creates ever-greater
economic problems. Coupled with the West’s internal disorder and
its incompatibility with the Oriental models of conduct, it places
itself as much at risk of disintegration as Russia.

In the meantime, Russia’s accession to NATO might generate a
number of purely practical tasks, the solution of which will be
essential for keeping up the bloc’s stability after this giant
country joins its ranks. There will be no time for fantasies then,
and the balance will be restored. What seemed to be a drawback
until fairly recently will turn into an asset.

One more point. If Russia makes a clear and unequivocal decision
in favor of NATO, which will presume a radical change in its
current course, then the drive for accession may get backing from
some multinational corporations. These economic entities, that wish
to buy property in Russia and have influence with governments, are
disappointed by certain obstacles in their economic path and by
Russia’s sudden about-face move toward China. Presently, they are
not particularly well disposed toward us.

To make a long story short, Russia’s move toward the West would
be a lucrative decision, as well as nicely matching the
psychological orientations of those individuals who cherish the
idea of Russia’s great mission. By going West again, we will rescue
the entire European project and ourselves. More importantly, our
possession of universal knowledge will make us its central
think-tank – a position much more serious than even that of the
grand masters of hi-tech. Is this not a worthwhile project?

Finally, we will play the role as a unification force in the
CIS, where many member-nations are pushing for NATO membership.
However, our present opposition to such a move obstructs their
vision of how to carry out these dreams. Russia may open the door
for them, while walking in the vanguard of the column.

Vladimir Putin and George W. Bush have a space of three years to
implement this unique opportunity. They can secure the most
prestigious place in history for themselves as great national and
world leaders; men who ventured to step over provincial egotism on
a large scale.

Unfortunately, however, Russia and the U.S. are merely trying to
outpace each other by making under-handed arrangements with China.
They are proceeding in vain, however, because the history of the
standoff between the global projects precludes such arrangements.
Furthermore, the degenerating Western versions are incongruent with
the Oriental model. However, China, a nation that always developed
in the format of that model, is congruent with it, and will
therefore outmaneuver all of us.

It will simply refrain from coming to terms with anyone now
seeking its favors. The Chinese view the Americans and Europeans as
overseas goblins, a devilish force in the most literal sense. As
for the Russians, the Chinese feel a mixture of delight, envy and
contempt toward us. Such presentiments rule out any enduring
commitment to agreements.

But why should China feel bound to any external powers? Contrary
to Western hopes, it will never join the pragmatic Western
project.
Culture in general and Chinese culture in particular, due to its
unique antiquity, demands that nothing is forgotten or jettisoned.
Chinese culture stipulates its solitary ability to rule the world.
For the rest of the world, their duty is to be content with the
status of provinces and servants of the Celestial Empire.

Beijing has drawn in huge investment and seized consumer markets
for goods and electronics. It is buying industries the world over
and supporting the huaqiao business. It is engulfing the entire
consumer economy, without which the Western community could not
imagine their present level of comfort. China is pursuing its
objective step by step, and is not far from reaching it.

China’s anti-Japanese gymnastics is also quite illustrative.
Beijing keeps reminding to the Land of the Rising Sun that it is a
younger civilization who learned everything from China.

This brings up yet another reason why NATO should unite with
Russia. The options are quite straightforward: we either save
ourselves together or perish together. Just look at China’s defense
achievements.

In conclusion, let us look at the re-emerging efforts of
European and American analysts who attempt to predict the scenarios
of Russia’s disintegration. These predictions should not be looked
at either too nervously or too placidly, while condemning them as
part of another plot against Russia would be very irrational.
I find the whole case to be much simpler and deeper at the same
time. The West realizes the self-destruction logic of the Oriental
project that we are presently experiencing and it is preparing for
a possible landslide, trying to predict what the self-destruction
will look like in a nuclear country. That is not the only reason,
though. The worst scenario, the Western analysts fear, is if
sprawling Russia collapses and they are unprepared. Hence, their
policy of befriending neighboring countries along our borders as an
additional safety belt to protect the Western body against the
approaching avalanche.

Of course, some people hope that during the long period of our
disintegration, which may take several decades and may also require
certain pragmatic demands, they will be able to find a loophole for
themselves for the next 25 years. We will let others scratch their
heads over these questions. The problem is that, unlike the deeply
hidden codes of civilization, the technological solutions that the
West takes pride in  do not work if these solutions do not
rely on broad cultural foundations, an asset that Russia has.

Unfortunately, our leaders have oriented their principal
cooperation programs to the East; they will have to reconsider this
trend, otherwise, the country will collapse. Since the current
programs are embedded in the Oriental project – contrary to the
perestroika episode or the first years of Boris Yeltsin’s
administration – that collapse will unavoidably be a bloody
one.

It is time for Russia and the West to stop their mutual fear
mongering. It is time the West stops fanning the flames of Russia’s
collapse, while we stop looking to China. Let us heed sober voices.
The games of patriots of every color will only serve to make the
world more feverish. This may eventually land us trouble, since the
time left for calm and rational thinking is running out.

The Kremlin may miss its window of opportunities. Western
partners will eventually decide that is it worthwhile just to wait
for our controllable disintegration, at which point they will buy
Russia up piecemeal. Ironically, some Russians have adopted this
logic of European and American scenarios and are acting on it as if
it were a user’s guide.

These individuals prepare the material and psychological
groundwork for carving the country up into pieces, but can anyone
prove that attuning the nation to a collapse is an easier task than
to cure a limited group of politicians of their anti-Western
syndrome?