Clouds of the 2000s Overshadow the Legacy of the ‘90s

27 march 2011

Fyodor Lukyanov is Editor-in-Chief of Russia in Global Affairs, Chairman of the Presidium of the Council on Foreign and Defense Policy, and Research Director of the Valdai International Discussion Club.

Resume: It makes almost no sense to try to publish an analytical journal on international politics in today’s world that would not be removed from current events, but follow them.

It makes almost no sense to try to publish an analytical journal on international politics in today’s world that would not be removed from current events, but follow them. We had hardly begun to understand what was happening in the Middle East when the situation in that region changed yet again. Then the world’s attention turned to Japan after the tragic tsunami hit that country. Moreover, developments in other regions of the world have not stopped either.

Uncertainty is everywhere. Russia must make a decision about how its government will develop. Situations like these always make society nervous; but this time the issue is aggravated by a more fundamental choice. Russia is on the threshold of a new socio-political cycle, Kirill Rogov writes in this journal. After the stages of transformation (the 1990s) and stabilization (the 2000s), the need has arisen for a new qualitative change, especially as the stabilization agenda has been exhausted. Rogov concludes that the new political cycle may require some of the ideas and approaches of the 1990s – a time that was severely criticized in the 2000s.

The recently published “Correspondence of Boris Yeltsin with Heads of State and Government” is a unique legacy of that time. The two-volume collection of documents reveals the most difficult period of Russian diplomacy, when the country was recovering, with much difficulty, from the unprecedented shock of 1991. In this issue I share my impressions of that book. It turns out that the documents in the book, made public for the first time, do not corroborate widespread stereotypes about that era.

The permeable international environment contributes to the overall uncertainty. Problems that arise in some countries immediately make themselves felt in other countries. Discussions about the failure of the multicultural model, which flared up in Europe, have echoes in Russia, which is finding it difficult to handle its own inter-ethnic problems. Commenting on some official statements, Emil Pain writes that renouncing multiculturalism, in its vulgar sense, would undoubtedly be good for all of Europe, including Russia. Alexei Levinson discusses a related subject; namely, the attitude of Russians towards their lost empire (both the Russian and Soviet empires) and the current perception of their ethnic compatriots. 

Overcoming both the Soviet past and post-Soviet psychological trauma in the collective consciousness has become a topical issue this year – the 20th anniversary of the breakup of the Soviet Union. The perception of that event by Russians is changing; they are ceasing to view the collapse as a reference point and a criterion for assessing what is happening now. Remarkably, shortly before the anniversary a discussion began over possible Russian membership in NATO, which involved intellectuals on both sides of the former Iron Curtain. Konstantin Kosachev sums up the preliminary results of this discussion and points out that the very idea of Russian membership is no longer automatically rejected. Hall Gardner goes even farther and proposes forging a Euro-Atlantic Confederation, in which all regional security problems would be addressed on a parity basis.

However, the question is whether or not developments in the Euro-Atlantic area influence the main processes of world politics. Evgeny Satanovsky writes about the changing security landscape. He believes that the Middle East will look quite different in a few years’ time – geographically, ideologically and in terms of the balance of power. He adds that the changes there will not take place peacefully, a process we are already witnessing.

The situation in the South Caucasus is a peripheral, yet highly important, element of the large political palette for Russia. Sergei Markedonov discusses Armenian-Turkish relations, which play a crucial role in the region. Olga Butorina analyzes “currency wars,” which, under the worst-case scenario, can grow into geopolitical conflicts and exacerbate the general confusion still further.

Changes in the international arena are accompanied by dynamic changes in the sphere of technology, which, in turn, have political consequences. Anton Khlopkov writes that the U.S.-Russian agreement on peaceful nuclear energy cooperation, which has finally come into effect after stalling for many years, could be more effective in bringing the two countries closer together than traditional issues of joint interest. Vladimir Yevtushenkov proposes building relations between Russia and the European Union on a common innovative space, which would be much more promising than traditional cooperation in the energy sector. Valentin Makarov and Pavel Zhitnyuk analyze Russia’s innovative potential in the IT industry – what has remained of the past legacy and what has been newly acquired. 

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