A Fresh Wind of Optimism

26 october 2013

A New Mindset for Russia in the Changing World

Andrey Bezrukov is an associate professor at the MGIMO Institute of International Relations of the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Resume: While the American elites take time to debate and prioritize their national interests, there is no similar dialogue going on within Russian elites. As society at large did not form an appreciation of what Russia’s true interests are, we can’t see whether we are failing or succeeding.

The international system is currently in the midst of a profound crisis. Each cycle of “creative destruction” of the old world order changes “the rules of the game.” The new international system will be shaped by new factors of success and new behaviors of its actors. The faster a country adapts to the new rules, the more successful it will be in the coming 10 to 20 years. The speed of the adaptation to the new global environment will greatly depend on the capacity of governments to understand where the world is going and to build a sound competitive strategy.

The Atlantic Council, in its recent report “Envisioning 2030: U.S. Strategy for a Post-Western Word,” based on the scenarios published by the National Intelligence Council, believes that the United Stated has a second chance to win the dominant position in the world. Remarkably, Russia gets almost no mention in the report, it is virtually written off as an influential player of the future.

Does Russia have a chance in the new global system? What are its challenges? What should Russia do to succeed? We believe that the success of Russia will depend on its ability to rethink its place in the world and devise a new strategy that would differ from the one it used in era of the Euro-Atlantic great-power rivalry.

THE CONTOURS OF A NEW WORLD

Despite many uncertainties, the existing economic, political and social trends allow to draw an approximate picture of the world 10 to 20 years from now.

The Economy and Technology: The Power Shift

It will be a world recovering from a long stretch of slower growth. The economies of the U.S. and, especially, Europe – the main global consumers of today – will still be working off the loads of debt. Despite the great advances in human health, computing and clean energy, the core technologies of the new long cycle of wealth creation will still not be mature enough to provide abundant money flows necessary for the growth of the wellbeing worldwide.

The Asia-Pacific basin will definitely eclipse the Euro-Atlantic area as the center of the world economy. Regardless of how the Chinese story unfolds, about half of the global elites will be comprised of confident, wealthy, sophisticated Asians, who, according to the Centre for European Reform, will account for 42 percent of the global consumer spending. For them, Shanghai, Mumbai and Singapore and not New York or London will become the global centers of gravity.

With the beginning of the new long growth cycle another power shift in global business elites will likely take place. The new captains of the economy will be not financiers and lawyers, but those who can grow incomes and fight for customers – entrepreneurs, engineers, marketers. The U.S. dollar, despite the relatively good health of the American economy, will lose the uncontested right to be the only world reserve currency. With the smaller role of the dollar, American financial elites – the kings of the current long economic cycle – will have to contain their ambitions. 

The world economy will become even more integrated via various trade arrangements, built around the strongest regional players. Governments across the world will seek to harmonize tax regimes, standards and regulations, giving up more of their sovereignty. They will compete fiercely to attract investments and talented people. The disparity of wealth between a few highly desirable places and the rest will become even more striking.

People vs Governments

In the West, governments, overloaded with financial and social obligations, will be facing a skeptical, tired, polarized electorate. In the East and South, regimes will have to deal with rising expectations of their large populace, while the export-driven economic growth will be fading.

The next twenty years will see increasing tensions between the governments and the governed. In order to get desperately needed revenues, governments will squeeze money from people, seeking complete control over their citizens–taxpayers. Frustrated, people will eventually fight back. The growing urban middle class, connected and restless, will demand more power, transparency and social protection. In Turkey, Brazil and Egypt, we can now see the sprouts of the “protest culture” that will mark the new generation of youth.

Despite the efforts to pin the taxpayers down, the states will be losing control over their most valuable assets – people. Speaking in Davos, Shimon Peres predicted that education and global companies will offer people unprecedented freedom to develop their individuality. The best will be welcome everywhere. The “worst” – poor and uneducated – will not be welcome anywhere. Watching the lives of rich and famous on every mobile phone, billions of boys and girls will be ready to work hard for their dreams. Those, whose dreams have turned sour, will be ready to fight, driving up crime statistics and filling the ranks of radical organizations.

Social tensions will feed political instability and nationalistic outbursts. These tensions will also produce major social movements, demanding a new, different course. Francis Fukuyama expects the momentum to come from the left of the political spectrum, as the reaction on polarization and the dominance of global financial elites. The spread of the leftist agenda of social justice will be facilitated by the absence of new ideas from the right. Facilitated by network tools, appealing to the frustrated youth of the globalized middle class, such movements for change could quickly become global, overwhelming governments one by one.

Security and Environment: the New Rallying Themes

Facing restless populations and ambitions of their neighbors, weakened states will become obsessed with security. Threatened by violent social convulsions and illegal migration, governments will “tighten the screws,” controlling everything from identities and personal finances, to street traffic, not to mention political activity. Armed with new eavesdropping technologies, the security apparatus worldwide will become an omnipresent “Big Brother.”  Unlike their docile, consumer-crazy “baby-boomer” parents, the young generation will rebel against excessive controls, creating a “pirate counterculture,” with people such as Assange and Snowden as new heroes.

As immigration flows reap through the social fabric of Western societies, governments will have no choice but to erect protective barriers against newcomers. To keep their hold on power, politicians will resort to xenophobia and nationalism. In much of the developing world, rapid industrialization and excessive urbanization will greatly degrade the environment. Economic opportunities will pull billions into a handful of megalopolises with their problems of pollution, squalor and crime. In countries with authoritarian regimes, lacking legal opportunities for political opposition, environmental problems may become the mobilizing theme for political change.

International Relations: Uncertainty and Tensions

Many observers of international politics agree with Ian Bremmer, the President of the Eurasia Group, when he says that the world 20 years hence will not have a dominant leader. The power of the West and the United States will become less pronounced, their freedom of maneuver, stemming from their control of international financial, media and military infrastructure, will be steadily diminishing. In the minds of the new global elites, especially Asians and Latinos, Bretton Woods and the Cold War will be the stories from a distant past. Brazil, India, Iran, Turkey and Indonesia will become centers of regional power, while China will form an alternative global power center on its own. The West will lose its monopoly on advanced military technology – regional players will develop capable military forces, able to defend their interests.

The logic of borderless business and common global issues, such as migration, environment, proliferation or human rights, will continue chipping off the sovereignty of governments. In the future world, best described by Parag Khanna, where corporations, states, people and religious organizations interact, often virtually, “official” channels will lose their monopoly on managing relationships between countries. The global institutions of today, unable to cope with increasing complexity, will further devolve real power to regional bodies and groups like G20. However, empowering ad-hoc groupings that lack universal legitimacy will create new tensions and volatility.

In a fluid international system, less controlled by the nuclear powers of the Security Council, rising regional players will try to shape their immediate environment, while smaller countries will seek protection from far away. This will be the most obvious in the space between the Mediterranean and the South China Seas, where Turkey, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, India, Vietnam and China – with their old rivalries and new ambitions – will have to compete. The unstable social fabric of many Islamic states virtually guarantees that at some point competitive tensions will turn violent.

It will be a competition, in which, contrary to the previous times, the United States may not want to be involved. Self-sufficient in energy and preoccupied with reinventing itself, the United States will deal with the world more cautiously, intervening mostly to maintain a favorable balance of power among other players.

A few more countries will likely acquire means of mass destruction – nuclear or otherwise. Instead of risking direct confrontation, rivals will employ religious and separatist movements as the preferred means of power projection. Investments in intelligence, counter-intelligence, special forces, as well as in cyber warfare will rise much faster than those in the traditional military.

In the coming years the world will become more competitive, more polarized, and less stable. Until the next long cycle of growth eases social pressure, it is likely to grow more violent. It is difficult to disagree with Colin Powell, who calls the next few years “revolutionary.”NEW FACTORS OF SUCCESS

To contain social tensions and provide jobs, countries will fiercely compete for opportunities and resources to grow. We will witness two parallel trends: while attempting to lure investors by attractive conditions, governments will search for ways to secure markets for their goods and services. The biggest players, such as the U.S. and China, will try to enlarge the market spaces they currently dominate. Smaller countries will try to strengthen regional alliances: we will likely see deeper integration in Europe, the formation of an Asian economic and defense bloc around ASEAN, and a common Latin American space.

While the competition for natural resources will persist, the competition for human assets, which drive innovation and value creation, will intensify significantly. Hence the rising value of peaceful, stable places with tolerant, non-intrusive governments, reasonable taxation, clean environment, and dynamic, multilingual, connected cities.

What dangers should countries avoid in the coming years? What can undermine their safety and competitiveness?

The first danger is to become a stranger in the global marketplace, losing unimpeded access to markets, talent, financing and technologies. For countries, the difficulty in integrating themselves in the best global value creation chains will mean slower growth and additional costs. In order to guarantee the best chances for their economies, states will try to become members of the largest possible number of economic alliances and free trading areas. Those that are unable to “fit,” as Iran finds it, will face a daunting task of survival in the worst conditions.

Another danger is to become a target of hostile powers – if not by an outright invasion, then by subversion. Either way demands extraordinary effort and exhausting spending on national defense. This security imperative will leave states with two options – either to become a “strongman,” including by acquiring weapons of mass destruction, or to seek protection in an alliance.

The absence of internal peace – social, religious and ethnic – is as dangerous as a war, because it impedes economic development. As the essential component of the quality of life, internal stability is a “must” for attracting talent and investments. To be able to compete for people, a country needs an environment of social optimism. Building an open, tolerant, inclusive culture with equal opportunities and clear rules will be paramount for national success.

Because no one can predict how technologies will shape business and how the international situation will unfold, countries should be ready to adapt quickly to changing conditions. More than ever, it will be important to “spread the risks”: to have competitive strengths in more than one area of wealth creation, not to be limited by one industry, one market, one alliance. As Ian Bremmer remarks, countries that have flexibility of multiple development options will have an advantage – they can “sell” themselves dearer on the international arena.

THE RISKS FOR RUSSIA

Russia currently does not belong to any economic “club.” While its membership in the WTO has opened its internal market to the world, the world has not opened doors for Russia. Sergey Rogov, the Director of the Institute for the U.S. and Canadian Studies, believes that the global economic integration is driven by the formation of two major trade circles – Transpacific and Transatlantic. Latin America, China and India will develop various degrees of association with the two circles. Unfortunately, Russia doesn’t fit into this new economic map as an influential stakeholder. It has not been included in any of the free trade zones. Its membership in the BRICS has no obvious economic benefits. The creation of the Eurasian Union enlarges Russia’s economic space, but does not grant it access to the most promising markets of tomorrow.

Russia has little influence on the mechanisms that form prices on the market for natural resources, upon which the country greatly depends. Its reputation as a place for investments, deserved or not, is horrible. Being an outsider to the circles that set global economic policies, it carries all the risks and has none of the opportunities. As the processes of globalization and economic integration continue, Russian authorities may find themselves in a bind: while lacking a sufficient set of economic tools, they will be held accountable for the outcomes of their policies and the wellbeing of their citizens.

From the point of view of strategic security, Russia is squeezed between two expanding centers of power – China and the European Union. The country has a shrinking population and no reliable friends. Its huge natural resources provoke envy. While the possession of a nuclear arsenal makes a direct attack on Russia improbable, the country is vulnerable to low intensity warfare along its southern borders that exploits its religious and ethnic problems.

In the West, predominantly Orthodox Russia is neither small enough to be absorbed by the closest civilizational center, nor big enough to be a global center on its own, such as, for example, China or India. Despite Russia’s growing economic and cultural ties with the rest of Europe, its religious and political differences are preventing the inclusion of Russia into the Euro-Atlantic club.

In the East, culturally and ethnically, Russia will always be a loner. It may have difficulty managing its dormant conflict with Japan, not to mention its potential tensions with China. In the best of scenarios, the future of these relationships could be defined by the principle that “good fences make good neighbors.” As Central Asia enters the orbit of a Greater China by the logic of the dominant market ties, Russia is facing cultural and political isolation. The Russian cultural and language space keeps shrinking.

The more restless and self-conscious the Islamic world will become, the less comfortable will Russia be living next to it. Its own Muslims, as their numbers and influence grow, may experience a cultural pull to the South – towards modernizing Turkey and rich Gulf countries. And the changes in the Middle East, where religious forces are gaining political power, will not go unnoticed.

In terms of its internal instability, Russia is entering this century being not in peace with itself, increasingly socially polarized, ethnically divided and religiously intolerant. From the point of view of the quality of life, Russia has little to be proud of. Its populated areas are polluted. Its infrastructure is inadequate. Its cities are mismanaged and often dirty. Its bureaucracy creates a nightmare for businesses and private citizens alike, negating the attractiveness of its tax rates. Despite its dynamic cultural life, the everyday habits of excessive drinking and hazardous driving are unappealing to both natives and outsiders.

Russian culture has managed to absorb and blend together a great number of ethnicities that lived within the borders of the Empire and, later, the Soviet Union. However, as a fairly remote and self-sufficient country, Russia has little experience in dealing with “real foreigners” – those who do not belong to its civilizational space. Just as young, mobile, curious Russians are open to the world, Russia as a country is not. Its businesses and bureaucracy work with little regard of how things are done elsewhere. For the huge majority of the “best and brightest” of the world, Russia may look exciting to visit, but not nearly open, inclusive, safe or convenient to do business with or to settle in.

Russia has no competitive advantage in any drivers of wealth other than natural resources. However, even as a resource-rich country, it is forecast to lose its clout, as the United States becomes a net oil and gas exporter and the world develops alternative ways of producing energy.

The drain on Russia’s skilled human assets continues, and its educational system pains to replace the talent base. Moreover, the country is failing to revive its value-adding industrial sectors that are critical to sustaining advanced skills of the population. In terms of scientific and educational reputation, measured by the statistics of issued patents or quotations in main scientific journals, Russia’s appeal is limited.

THE NEW STRATEGIC PARADIGM

The new world is forming around Russia and often without Russia. The country is still officially aspiring to become a major player, the No. 5 or 6 in terms of GDP. If no longer a rival to the United States, the European Union or China, it would be an equal to Japan, ASEAN, India or Brazil.

However, those are the projections based on the current economic models. In the world driven by different factors of success, Russia may not grow as fast as projected. With its one-sided economy, no bigger than 3 percent of the global GDP, Russia’s economic role may become marginal.

While for the last 20 years it was obvious that Asia is the biggest future market, Russia is barely opening its eastern doors. It is losing influence in Central Asia. It is passive in Ukraine, allowing a new economic borderline to form close to home. For many years, Russia has been unable to make a deal with the EU that is critical for its economy. Turkey is slowly chipping away its hold on the Caucasus. Russia’s business with the biggest global player – the U.S. – is insignificant. Just as the global competition is heating up, Russia is finding itself in a vulnerable position. While the role of the global institutions where Russia has a big influence is diminishing, the weight of regional groupings where Russia may be “outnumbered,” such as in the Arctic, or around the Black and Caspian Seas, is increasing.

As its population shrinks and its neighbors grow bigger, Russia is losing geopolitical weight. It is becoming alarmingly clear that in a couple of decades Russia could find itself on the periphery of the global economic and political systems.

Russia is struggling with a strategic paradigm shift. The country is used to the world of global power rivalry with clearly defined borders and mechanisms of power projection. For the last three hundred years Russia got accustomed to be a major player in the Eurocentric system. It competed with the West, but had no strong challengers to the East or South. In the old paradigm, Russia, or the Soviet Union, was feared for its size and might. It was economically self-sufficient. It depended on no one and did not have to share anything. It stood alone.

The game has changed. Individual countries, even the biggest ones, don’t have the weight to be self-sufficient anymore. Those which are able to form alliances and leverage others, achieve better results. For countries such as Russia, this is a profound change. The difficulty of playing alone against the whole teams is evident in Russia’s relationships with the European Union. Russia is more comfortable dealing with countries one-on-one. It feels like a tennis player, who is forced to play football.

In the new paradigm, Russia depends on the rest of the world. It must be able to navigate complexity, to find and manage allies. Historically, however, Russia has little experience in alliance building and working as a “team member.” It becomes impatient with organizations that it does not dominate. It keeps speaking to neighbors with a mentoring voice. It quickly gets frustrated with bureaucratic mazes of multilateral bodies. As Nikolai Zlobin writes, the country is yet to find the delicate balance between preserving its independence and losing influence on global processes.

Russia advocates multi-polarity, but it is yet to understand that it needs to change the ways it works to be effective in a multi-speed, multi-dimensional world. Just as the need to share global power is yet to be accepted by the American elites, the idea that Russia no longer can play alone is yet to gain traction in the Russian ones.A NEW MINDSET FOR THE NEW PARADIGM

What prevents Russia from becoming a better team player? Russia’s behavior is the result of the mental model that dominates Russian elites and Russian society in general. To win in the new world, Russia needs a new mindset.

Without a change of our mental model we are bound to repeat our past behavior. We have to take a hard look at the perceptions and “a priori’s” that form our collective conscience, talk openly about our challenges, get rid of taboos, and shed the practices that now hamper our ability to compete. Dealing with our own fears, problems and shortcomings is painful. Rethinking our past behavior may provoke accusations of being “unpatriotic.” However, there is nothing more patriotic than to confront reality in the name of a better future. Peter the Great was also accused of renouncing “sacred traditions” when he was cutting boyars’ beards.

First, let’s shed our “defensive thinking” and go on the offence. Our current mental model considers Russia a “besieged fortress.” It defines us as Russians through our resistance to outside invaders – Mongols, Germans, Americans. The defensive mindset was meant to keep the vast and diverse country united, and it performed this function quite effectively. The model implies that Russians are the victims of aggression, thus we are morally right. However, the model also implies that we can leave the others the initiative to attack. It implies that we have time and space to lose before we are under an existential threat.

This logic doesn’t work anymore. It is unlikely that someone would want to occupy Russia. In other senses than geographical, we are not a big country – if the “bigness” is measured by the extent of available human talent or industrial and financial capacity. Our distances are a handicap not only for our enemies but mainly for ourselves. In the world of modern technologies our “defensive” thinking no longer makes sense.

Our defensive tradition leads us to wrong choices. First, it breeds passivity. It creates an illusion that we can simply outlast opponents; that we can wait until the situation becomes deadly serious before acting. It leaves us waiting for offers instead of actively engaging others. Thus, we are playing a defensive game, holding European, American or Chinese advances, rather than focusing on finding new friends and opportunities wherever they might be. We are reactive and often late in the information space, letting others shape our international image and even our domestic debates.

Second, it perpetuates the mentality of victims, relieving us from the accountability for our own miscalculations. Enough to glance through daily press, both conservative and liberal, to see how we love to blame others – the government, the neighbors, the Masons – while proposing nothing in return. Victimizing ourselves makes us underestimate our capabilities and stops us from trying.

It is time we shed the “besieged fortress” mentality and learn to build bridges, not walls. The defensive mentality implies a foreign policy aimed at preserving the status-quo and defending sovereignty as an inviolable principle. We emphasize the instruments of stability – our seat of the permanent member of the UN Security Council, our membership in the “nuclear club” and in the G8, rather than those that shape the new strategic environment – the Eurasian Union, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, the BRICS and the Arctic Council.

Second, let’s stop thinking that we are unique and open up to the world. Our defensive behavior is often justified by the claims of Russia’s “uniqueness.” Some affirm that Russia cannot be understood by the rest of the world and will always follow its own, separate way. This perception is the product of our limited interaction with other countries, as the true self is difficult to understand without comparison. Russian culture is no more unique than any other major civilization – Indian, Chinese, German, Persian or Japanese.

Mentally separating ourselves from everybody else bars us from competing on the most important global market – the market of ideas, of ‘soft power.’ We leave it to the Americans and the Europeans to introduce the concepts, according to which the world, including our own country, is explained and judged. Vladislav Inozemtsev laments that none of the main concepts that now frame global debates, such as “globalization” or the “clash of civilizations,” came from Russian thinkers. By invoking our uniqueness, we build an intellectual “Berlin Wall” and discount the value of ideas produced in Russia.

Notwithstanding the long history of a multinational empire, we feel threatened by the influx of other cultures and religions and we do not know how to deal with people from other countries. Our immigration system is not functioning, we struggle to integrate newcomers. Foreigners accuse us of being xenophobic. According to the study by the World Economic Forum, by the percentage of the population with negative attitudes towards foreigners, Russia is the third worst out of 140 countries.

As Jose Manuel Barroso recently observed, “Russia is a civilization, masked as a nation, a continent, disguised as a country.” There is much truth in these words. We are not sure about our true borders – where the “real Russia” ends. We are not sure whether to love or hate our history. We project the sense of insecurity, swinging from deriding everything Russian to aggressively showing our wealth and power. We don’t see ourselves as confident, self-assured people who know who we are and what we stand for. Abroad, we have a bad reputation as business partners and even tourists.

As a midsize country of some 150 million people, we can’t survive in isolation. Our market and our sphere of interests must be essentially global. We have no choice but to open doors to people from other countries, and to accept diversity of backgrounds as an asset, not as a threat. However, shedding the mental division into “us” and “them” will also mean that we admit that foreigners – Westerners, Asians and so on – are not smarter, richer or in any way better than us. It will mean that we need to stop waiting for “foreign investors” to rebuild our country and fix our problems.

We also need to change our view on the Russian diaspora. Until recently, compared to many other countries, the impact of the Russians living outside the country on Russia was relatively small. During the Soviet period, emigrating equaled treason. However, in the new, networked world, the Russian diaspora is a great asset. While the fact that Russians are leaving their country shows that life is still better outside, emigration is an inevitable, natural process in the contemporary world. For Russia, its diaspora is its global human connection, without which there will be fewer exchanges of ideas and less business opportunities. The Chinese diaspora led the explosive growth of China, the Indian one has made India a global major in IT. For its future development, Russia badly needs a cadre of people who are already integrated in the “outside” world.

Third, let’s stop pursuing ideas and learn to pursue interests. Russia or the Soviet Union always saw themselves as a country with a mission. Our history is full of appeals to the special role of Russia – be it the Third Rome, the defender of the workers of the world, or the alternative center of power. We speak of our past in messianic terms – we saved Europe from the Mongols, we freed our Slavic kin from the Turks, we stood up against fascism and imperialism, and now we have the historic duty to be a link between the East and the West. We believe in Russia’s special destiny. Even now, when the country has experienced some of the lowest points in its history, deep inside we hope that “historic justice” will be served and praise our President for making Russia “respected again.”

Distracted by our search for greatness, we are not paying enough attention to understanding and defending our vital interests, which are driven by the hard logic of our geography, our neighbors and our capabilities. This logic of national interests, as opposite to national ideas did not yet take root in our thinking. We need to make a conceptual shift similar to what Robert Kaplan named as “Machiavellian step from religious virtue towards secular self-interest.” Importantly, protection of key national interests does not suggest cynicism and lack of ideology or values, which mark Russian social-political practice of today. 

As the new Russian nation is being formed, we need to rethink our priorities and our alliances based on new realities, not old grievances. Our relations with Japan and the Unites States are great examples where such a conceptual shift may be useful, although our counterparties are guilty of the same thing.

While the American elites take time to debate and prioritize their national interests, there is no similar dialogue going on within Russian elites. As society at large did not form an appreciation of what Russia’s true interests are, we can’t see whether we are failing or succeeding. Russian elites need to take charge of the public debate about Russia’s place in the world without devolving this matter to a “higher authority.” The clarity about what is good for Russia will help unleashing the ‘soft power’ of the whole nation via “megadiplomacy” – a term coined by Parag Khanna to describe the entire spectrum of global relationships between businesses, NGOs and ordinary people.

Fourth, let’s stop dwelling on the past, and focus on the future. Quarreling about the past of our country is becoming an irrelevant, paralyzing pastime. We may not agree on its past, but we must agree on its future. We need to stop debating who was a saint or a villain and prepare for huge challenges ahead. While we score popularity points in exhausting debates, other countries are building. Besides, even if ethnic Russians still hold a majority, because of the variety of ethnic, religious and ideological backgrounds in the population, the past may not be the most effective unifying theme.

The memories of the past century are still too raw to unite us. As a country, we are struggling with something similar to what psychotherapists call a “rape victim syndrome,” when a violated person constantly relives painful memories, blames herself for what has happened, and, unable to see the situation objectively, fails to put her life together. Considering our 20th- century history and our loss in the Cold War, Russia can be called a “rape-victim” country. Furthermore, it is now confronted with the question whether to swallow her pride and allow the wealthy rapist – the United States – to marry her.

We are at a point when, as Roberto Unger states, “Prophecy is more important than Memory.” In other words, the past should by no means overshadow the future. Russian people are craving for a vision of the future. More than anything, they need inspiring leadership that sets ambitious goals. While ideological differences prevent the elites from agreeing on what has happened, they ought to work together in the future for the sake of their own political survival. Only by building a better country the new Russian elites can acquire genuine legitimacy.

LESSONS FROM PETER THE GREAT

At the beginning of the troublesome “teen years” of the century Russia has to adapt to the new rules of the game. Anticipating the loss of its former advantages, it needs to be on the forefront of re-defining the international system. The new strength of Russia will come from its capacity to develop reliable allies and to fully integrate into the world economy. It has to go on the offensive, including the “charm offensive.” Russia can provide many things that will be valuable in the coming years: in the world of conflicts and pollution it can become a clean, stable, independent, welcoming island. In the game between the East and the West, it can be the arbiter who reaps all the benefits.

Russia needs to become more proactive in dealing with the outside world. Its system of government has to develop capacities to learn and adjust. In his article “Russia Is Concentrating” President Vladimir Putin points out, that as a society, we don’t have enough of serious strategic discourse about the global challenges we face. We need to make sure that such discourse starts before it is too late.

In Russia, we already have an example when a forceful change of the mental model of its ruling elites resulted in a great breakthrough for the country. While visiting modernizing Europe, Peter the Great understood that Russia was falling behind. Peter saw Russia not as a fortress, surrounded by enemies, but as an active player, a stakeholder in the European system. He went on the offensive, engaging the strongest country in the neighborhood. He opened Russia to the world, believing that such interaction was not a threat, but an opportunity. He made clear what Russia’s interests were, fighting for access to ports, developing trade links and political alliances. Building on the new generation of elites, he modernized the country via a host of strategic initiatives. Seeing resistance, he redesigned the Russian state to make it more open to progress and more capable to fulfill his ambitious agenda. And, most importantly, he changed the way the country thought of itself.

At this turn of history, states will rise or fall depending on how well they can mobilize and inspire their citizens. Russia needs a fresh wind of social optimism, a positive national vision. People want to see a future for their country, so that they can confidently make their own steps – in business and in their private lives.

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