Two Crises on the Way to Reshaping the World

16 november 2008

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. Research Professor, Faculty of World Economy and International Affairs, National Research University Higher School of Economics, Moscow.

Resume: Two crises have occurred one after the other in the past few months that have had a significant impact on Russian foreign policy. The Russian-Georgian war in August and the upheavals on global financial markets in September and October are not related. Yet both events, each in its own way, have contributed to the formulation by Russia of its national interests. One can say that the two crises have set a conceptual framework of interests, defining a vector for the indispensable and boundaries for the possible.

© "Russia in Global Affairs". № 4, October - December 2008

Two crises have occurred one after the other in the past few months that have had a significant impact on Russian foreign policy. The Russian-Georgian war in August and the upheavals on global financial markets in September and October are not related. Yet both events, each in its own way, have contributed to the formulation by Russia of its national interests. One can say that the two crises have set a conceptual framework of interests, defining a vector for the indispensable and boundaries for the possible.

The Georgian attack against South Ossetia and the world reaction to Russia’s response have created a new mood in Russian politics and public opinion. Perhaps never before have Russia and the West had such a deep clash in perceptions as now. For the first time since the breakup of the Soviet Union, Moscow found itself in a situation where it had to act without regard to the possible costs of world reaction. This time the Kremlin decided that taking actions approved of by its foreign partners would cost too much from the point of view of the country’s vital interests. Moreover, most likely it was impossible to uphold these interests without coming into conflict with major international partners.

At the same time, there must be clear criteria for judging what interests are vital and should be upheld whatever the cost. Russia is a country that is still in progress and it does not have such clear criteria yet, although the process is already underway. The financial crisis has played an important role in this regard.

The financial instability that has rapidly spread throughout the world has shown the degree of global interdependence and the limits of economic and, as a consequence, geopolitical capabilities. It has turned out, for example, that the huge financial resources accumulated over the years of sustained economic growth may be enough to alleviate the consequences of the national crisis. Yet it is not enough to implement major geopolitical projects planned in recent years.

The reality of the crisis will cause countries to set priorities better, rank their intentions, and give up secondary tasks in favor of more important ones. A positive side to the financial crisis is that the world has renewed discussions about the need to modernize global governance institutions. Russia has been talking about the decline of the existing institutions for a long time, but no one has ever heeded its warnings.

The financial crisis can cause all countries, including Russia, to realize their collective interests and the need for multilateral action. Otherwise the world will see a further aggravation of the chaos and growing competition, which – amid conditions of interdependence – may have highly dangerous consequences.

Sergei Karaganov maps out in his article a general agenda for the leading world powers in a new era of economic and political instability. Following up on this subject, Sir Roderic Lyne writes that the realities of the crisis make it necessary to rethink Russian-Western relations. Alexander Lukin proclaims the end of the post-Soviet phase in Russian foreign policy. From now on, he argues, foreign policy will be neither anti- nor pro-Western, and Russia will have to formulate its own objectives. Alexander Aksenyonok analyzes the South Ossetian tragedy in the context of the general degradation of the world system over the last two decades. The author does not rule out a fundamental change of the paradigm in the Kremlin’s foreign policy. Vladimir Ovchinsky describes August 8, 2008 as “September 11, 2001 in reverse” for Russia. He believes that “the international anti-terrorist coalition” can now be scrapped.

Ivan Safranchuk analyzes Russian-U.S. relations and says the era is over when both countries declared that they were in “one boat.” Now Moscow and Washington will not even pretend that they coordinate their policies. Sergei Dubinin, on the contrary, is confident that now is the time for establishing a serious and equal alliance between Russia and the United States. Timofei Bordachev points out that a strategic alliance between Russia and the European Union would guarantee stability in Eurasia, whereas U.S. desire to retain control over the Old World would play a destabilizing role on the continent. Alexander Lomanov considers the prospects for a U.S.-Chinese “Big Duo” – the theoretical possibility of a joint dominance by these two countries over the world, now being discussed in both China and the U.S.

The significance of the August events in the Caucasus for the former Soviet Union is difficult to overestimate. Ivan Kotlyarov analyzes various aspects of the Caucasian crisis. Alexei Vlassov believes that time has come for the former Soviet republics to make a choice, as room for multi-vector policies is getting narrower. David Erkomaishvili sees a new chance for reintegration, which is the only way Russia can regain the status of a really great power. Sergei Markedonov argues that the war in South Ossetia and subsequent developments have annulled the main principle on which relative stability was based in the post-Soviet era – the inviolability of Soviet administrative borders. Alexei Miller discusses the situation in Ukraine, where the potential for instability is very great.
Our next issue will focus on the global financial crisis and its consequences for Russia and the rest of the world.

Last updated 16 november 2008, 15:19

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