Staunton, October 8 – The Russian Federation is seeking a revision in the international system but lacks the economic strength to be a new pillar, according to Fyodor Lyukanov. And as a result, Moscow will seek to make up for that shortcoming by sudden and dramatic foreign policy moves as it has been doing in Ukraine.
At a Moscow seminar entitled “Russia in a World Falling Apart: A Revisionist In Spite of Itself” and hosted by Yevgeny Yasin, the editor of Russia in World Politics argues that “an entire era is ending not only in Russian politics but more broadly” in the politics of the world since the end of the Cold War.
A century after the beginning of World War I, Lukyanov continues, events are showing that “the potential for conflicts, instability, and irrational actions” remains very much in play and tha the hopes expressed first by Mikhail Gorbachev and then by George H.W. Bush for a new world order after the Cold War have proven illusory.
What happened at the end of the Cold War and what is happening now, he says, has “not been the result of any plan. Rather, the course of events has defined behavior, and Russia inspire of itself has turned out to be at the center of events.”
The Cold War world was based on a balance of forces between two pillars, but in 1991, one of those “disappeared.” According to Lukyanov, the speed of the demise of the one was unprecedented. “Empires had disintegrated earlier, geopolitical structures had changed their status, but such a sharp fall had not occurred.”
And that experience, he says, has defined the subsequent behavior of Russia. Under Yeltsin, Moscow sought inclusion in “a certain community of influential countries under any conditions that might be possible. But that raises the question: was there really a status quo into which Russia could integrate itself?
The West assumed that it existed because it had won the Cold War, but these new arrangements were never codified in any international agreement, Lukyanov says. And with time, people in both Russia and the West began to ask whether in fact such a new world order existed or could exist.
“Even in the period of Kozyrev’s diplomacy, Russia never was completely in solidarity with the approaches of the West,” the Moscow analyst says. The Russian seizure of the Prishtina airport shows that. “From a strategic point of view, this was a senseless action because Russian then voluntarily left the airport, then Kosovo, and then Bosnia.”
“But it was necessary to show that we were not in agreement” with what the West was doing, Lukyanov says.
Russia “was not satisfied with the status” the West had left to it, but the West in almost all cases “started from the proposition that it had won the cold war” and that there could not be any questions or demands from Russia about what it was doing. But it quickly became obvious that “the mono-centric world system did not work,” even when Russia was trying to join it.
Over the last four or five years, the post-Cold War system clearly broke down because “players began to appear on the world stage who conducted themselves differently than others expected.” These included Turkey, and they included Ukraine and Russia. That encouraged those in Russia “who asserted that no world order had arisen” and that “we are not tied to it.”
What will happen next, he says, is “difficult to predict.” Russia has broken with the expectations of others and gone for broke, “not very conscientiously but more in a reactive way.” In early 2014, “no one in the Kremlin or in the White House could have predicted such developments.”
Whatever world order there was is now in a shambles, and a new one is going to have to be constructed, “but everyone understands that Russia does not have the necessary economic potential to fill this role.”
“A return to the former model is impossible but at the same time there does not exist any alternative plan,” he argues. “Russia is acting as a revisionist, that is, as a supporter of the review of that order in which it itself does not believe.” But it is an open question how the West will react to this revisionism.
Lukyanov concludes by saying that he belives “the key lies in the economic sphere.” Russia lacks the economic potential to be the pillar of a new system on its own. Its “economic weakness” can be compensated for a time by “harsh and sharp steps in the political sphere,” but ultimately, it will require an alliance with a stronger partner.
That could be China together with other countries “who are not completely satisfied with the current system,” or it could be a new agreement with the West. But “even if Russia should want that, the question remains as to whether the Europeans and the Americans would agree to that.”
As a result, Lukyanov says, “the next period will be for us extremely stormy and risky,” one lacking in clear guide posts and driven at least in part by slogans rather than carefully articulated policies.