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24.11.2009. Russia in Euro-Atlantic Region

Let me share with you some thoughts born from the discussions of a report on a new Euro-Atlantic security architecture. The report, being prepared by the Russian group of the Valdai Club which I have been chairing for the last six years, will be presented in Moscow and London in December this year.
The work on the report has brought me to a conclusion that is now obvious to me, but that is not generally accepted, yet. After all, when we speak of the need to sign a new treaty on European security, it is not only and not so much security that is at stake as Russia’s civilizational choice – and the place and role of the Euro-Atlantic civilization and community in the contemporary world.
The rapid changes in the world economy and politics yet another time raise an “evergreen” issue before Russia, that is, the issue of its relations with Europe and the United States or, generally speaking, with the Euro-Atlantic region. For all their differences, rapprochements and discords, economically, politically and culturally Europe and the United States are one civilization.
Russia partly belongs to it, too. Yet, it cannot and does not want to join it yet. Meanwhile, the fast changes in the world make this choice largely different for Russia than it was even a few years ago.
It is quite obvious, at least to me, that the Euro-Atlantic civilization, which seemed to have finally won, in the new world is lagging somewhat behind China and other Asian countries which have turned out to be the true winners of the Cold War.
It seems that China and Southeast Asia, which is increasingly gravitating towards it, are destined for economic and political success at least for one more decade – much to the displeasure of their competitors and the ideological advocates of political liberalism. China’s leap is based on a unique combination of readiness for economic and social experiments and the ability of its efficient authoritarian government to use the results of these experiments. A series of revolutionary changes in the military-political sphere and the unprecedented information openness of the present world have denied the Old West the ability and readiness to impose its political and economic rules on others by force, as it used to do in the past centuries. Not only nuclear superiority but even superiority in conventional forces is becoming less and less applicable. The political defeat of the U.S. in Iraq is the latest evidence of that. The world has become much freer in this sense.
Against the background of these changes, America’s geopolitical positions and its claims to sole leadership have sharply deteriorated – thanks to Iraq, Pakistan, Afghanistan and the economic crisis. These positions can and will be restored only partially.
The international political position of non-Russian Europe is even more difficult. Europe has benefited from the end of the Cold War, as it has relieved itself of the burden of confrontation and the need to play a subordinate role to the U.S. guarantor of its security. The generally successful experiment with comprehensive integration, unprecedented in human history, has enabled Europe to gradually overcome the curse of state nationalism and wars and create a new, humane, innovative and, I would call it, post-European civilization.
However, the deliverance from the Cold War burden did not release the energy of the EU countries outwards. Moreover, these countries continued their withdrawal from the big world politics at a time when the latter sharply intensified. Apart from the process of internal European construction, which takes more and more energy, this withdrawal is also prompted by the deep-seated reluctance to sacrifice anything for the strategic goals of big-time politics. This reluctance, caused by the fatigue from the horrible 20th century, has existed for a long time but has become particularly evident in recent years. For the time being, Europe is retreating into itself; it runs away from international problems and does not want to see them or tries to ransom itself from them.
I would like to be proven wrong but the forthcoming entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty, which will create the post of a President of the European Union and his “foreign minister”, will not reverse this process but will only slow it down.
The new configuration raises the problem of Russia’s geostrategic choice in a new way, especially amidst the prevailing internal development trends. Despite the encouraging yet futile talk about innovation-based development, the de-modernization of the Russian economy continues. Rampant corruption makes economic modernization absolutely illusory now. Having allowed corruption to assume such a scope and depth, the state and society have deprived themselves of instruments for implementing this modernization. If we look at this situation from the position of realism, it is difficult to imagine Russia efficiently working in the next few years not only for the growth but even for the preservation of the current and very modest 2 to 2.5 % of the world product (according to different counting methods).
The choice is complicated by the evolution of the political system and the values system. For the first time in decades, the values gap between Russia and the EU is apparently increasing. Not just because they are overcoming state nationalism and we are building a nation state. And not just because the other Europeans, broken by history and not wishing it to happen again, have chosen a policy of compromise and renunciation of the direct use of force, especially military force, in international relations, and have opted for “soft power” which implies promoting one’s positions through economic instruments, cultural expansion or simply by showing an example of a comfortable and humane society. Russia, in contrast, has to make emphasis on “hard power”, including military force – because it lives in a much more dangerous world and has no one to hide behind from it. And because it has little “soft power” – that is, social, cultural, political and economic attractiveness. So it has to use the “competitive advantages” that it has. For now, Russia cannot and does not want to play in the field of more advanced competition.
The internal political development in Russia and the West is different-vectored as well. Europe and the U.S. are developing various versions of democracies and rule-of-law states. Russia is now moving in the opposite direction.
I am far from declaring the values gap an insurmountable obstacle on the way to geostrategic rapprochement. But this gap does not facilitate such rapprochement, especially if it is coupled with mutual irritation, which is particularly strong in Russia. Russia’s elite has never considered itself defeated in the Cold War. Meanwhile, the West tried to treat Russia, after its own anti-Communist revolution which was not imposed from the outside, as a defeated country. NATO’s expansion stands as a symbol of such an attitude. This factor laid a deep foundation for a potentially tough confrontation. For some time, Moscow tolerated such treatment. But when NATO attempted to expand to Ukraine, which a large part of the Russian ruling class took as a threat to Russia’s vital interests and, moreover, as a threat of war, Moscow said a firm no. It was only after the West encountered an armed rebuff in South Ossetia that it stopped its expansion. Yet it has not given up its expansion plans.
This unwillingness to close the expansion issue once and for all is coupled with a repeated refusal to recognize Russia’s right to have a zone of its own special interests. In word the very concept of such zones is rejected as illegitimate in the contemporary world. But NATO’s expansion is nothing more than the extension of its zone of influence and even hegemony; moreover, this is done in the most sensitive, military-political sphere.
NATO’s expansion has made the Cold War actually unfinished. The ideological and military confrontation which underlay the Cold War is gone, but the geopolitical rivalry that was behind it has remained.
This unfinished nature of the Cold War constantly revives open or hidden suspicions and a confrontational mentality both in Russia and other countries of the Euro-Atlantic region.
Energy debates are a classic example of that. Non-Russian Europe should thank the Almighty for the presence of energy-rich Russia at its borders, while Russia should be thankful for having such a wealthy customer. However, natural, albeit hidden differences in the interests of energy consumers and producers, which are easily overcome in open bargaining, almost unconsciously are given a political hue. Energy supply becomes an issue of “energy security” and even acquires a military tint (as follows from the discussion about an “Energy NATO”). Another example, which is quite phantasmagoric, is the farcical military-political rivalry over 25% of the world’s undiscovered (!) energy resources that allegedly are located in Russia’s economic zone in the Arctic.
The unresolved situation with NATO’s expansion is coupled with a deadlock in Russia-EU relations, which emerged for objective reasons and, partly, due to the achieved high level of rapprochement between the parties. This deadlock is not antagonistic and may be overcome some day. But decisions must be made here and now.
Faced with the impossibility of its advantageous and equal accession to the Euro-Atlantic space, Russia is drifting fast towards prioritizing cooperation with China – even if as a “younger brother,” although a respected one. In addition, China quite pragmatically does not focus on differences in values, although these differences are great.
The “Asian choice” of today is not the same as the Eurasian choice of the past. It looks like a choice in favor of a rapidly rising civilization.
I think Russia’s partial economic and political reorientation to the rising Asia and Great China is a must. It is long overdue. But the present estrangement from Europe – the cradle of Russian civilization and modernization – threatens Russia’s identity and increases geostrategic risks in the distant future.
Europe does not benefit from its estrangement from Russia, either. It would continue to confidently move towards becoming a big Venice – that is, towards affluent decay. The U.S. also does not benefit from this estrangement. Without Russia, which is the third largest international actor and will remain so in the foreseeable future, it is impossible to solve any of the key problems of international security.
However, the present Euro-Atlantic security architecture suits the majority of Americans and Europeans, who take no thought that it is becoming increasingly fragile.
So Russia will now have to struggle for the creation of a new architecture on its own – whether through the signing of a new treaty on collective European security, or even through its accession to NATO. This is not only our political and civilizational interest but also our duty to the entire community of Euro-Atlantic nations which is weakening itself by the “unfinished Cold War” and by its reluctance to think about the future.

// This article was originally published in Russian in Rossiyskaya Gazetaon November 24, 2009.