After the Empire

7 february 2006

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: This year will mark 15 years since the breakup of the Soviet Union, a dramatic event whose aftermath will determine the course of world history for a long time.

© "Russia in Global Affairs". № 1, January - March 2006

This year will mark 15 years since the breakup of the Soviet Union, a dramatic event whose aftermath will determine the course of world history for a long time. For Russia, the last of the great European empires, the disappearance of its traditional sphere of influence has come as a serious test. This process, however, was painful for all empires of the past.

What is strange, however, is that Russia is only now beginning to experience what is usually described as post-imperial syndrome: in the 1990s, the shock accompanying the collapse of the Soviet Union was so great that the people focused all their efforts on survival in the new environment. Moreover, Russian society and its elite believed for quite a long time in an inevitable reunification of the former Soviet republics into a single state. Today, the problem of survival is not that acute, while developments in the post-Soviet space have dispelled any hope for reintegration. Time has come to rethink the new reality.

Since time immemorial, the leaders of empires were convinced that the laws of global development, which caused other empires to break up, did not apply to their own empire, argues Alexei Arbatov in this issue. History, however, has repeatedly refuted that self-assurance. In another essay, Portugal’s ex-president Antonio Ramalho Eanes analyzes peculiarities of the post-imperial consciousness. However different Russia and Portugal may be, they have faced similar psychological problems. The experience of our “companion in distress” suggests an important conclusion, namely that a farewell to empire, however bitter, disappointing or unfair it may seem, is an inevitable stage in a country’s development. Yet the life of a nation does not stop at that point; there is always a possibility to restore its influence and take on a new role in the world – sometimes independently, and sometimes by joining an alliance with other countries. But to take avail of this possibility, a country requires sober analysis. It needs the ability to look into the future, rather than into the past, and to formulate clearly its prospects instead of lamenting its past glory.

In this issue, our contributing authors focus their analysis on how Russian society is coping with the challenges in this time of change. Sergei Dubinin, one of the architects of economic reforms in Russia, analyzes the lessons of the Russian revolution, which has turned traditional life upside down without reaching its logical end. Social scientist Lev Gudkov raises the issue of nationalism and xenophobia, which often are a reaction to the collapse of the established national identity. Scholar Sergei Gradirovsky proposes a radical new strategy for Russia: instead of pursuing the traditional policy of “gathering together lands,” he suggests “harvesting new peoples” in order to revive the nation.

Alexander Arbatov, Maria Belova and Vladimir Feygin write about Russia’s hydrocarbon potential, which is increasingly projected as the main instrument for Russia retaining its great-power status in the 21st century.

Russian veteran politician Yevgeny Primakov comments on Russian-U.S. relations and describes as shortsighted those American politicians who “have excluded Russia from the list of great powers and underestimate the dynamics and prospects of its development.”

The Russia-Belarus Union, proclaimed by the two countries in the mid-1990s, was considered by many as a prototype of a powerful future association that would again be centered around Russia. Belarusian economist Leonid Zaiko analyzes the present state of affairs in relations between the close allies.

Historian Sergei Markedonov focuses on one of the most sensitive problems inherited from the Soviet Union – breakaway entities on the territory of Georgia, Azerbaijan and Moldova. Political scientists Vladimir Degoyev and Rustam Ibragimov warn about threats to Russia’s territorial integrity, which stem from the difficult situation in the Caucasus. Diplomat Stanislav Chernyavsky has contributed an extensive analysis of the situation in Central Asia and Russia’s chances to restore its former influence in the region.

Mikhail Margelov, a member of Russia’s Federation Council, comments on the strained relations between Russia and the Council of Europe. Russian scholar Vladislav Inozemtsev and British economist Micґa Panicґ discuss in their articles various aspects of globalization. Finally, our Personage section provides an interview with the leading U.S. social scientist, Michael Walzer.

Last updated 7 february 2006, 18:50

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