ExpertsFlorin PasatoiuInsights

Pro Est Exclusive – Russia and the Post – Cold War Global Order

Pro Est Exclusive: Political science professor Sergei Karaganov analyzes the status-quo of the EU, US and Russia relations with a focus on the need to redefine the global order[1].

Friday 31st, October 2014

Moscow, Russian Federation

Florin Pasatoiu: Given the latest developments in Europe, why have we reached to the point of the EU and US clashing against Russia? Quite few people in the scholars’ community but particularly politicians heralded the potential emergence of a Cold War 2.0.

Both in Europe and the US, people (the political establishments) thought they won the Cold War while the Russians have never thought that they lost. By genes we (the Russians) are a victorious nation. We defeated all our enemies, the latest being Napoleon and Hitler! The West has acted as Russia was a defeated nation. It was constantly widening its spheres of influence and control through the EU and more aggressively through NATO expansions. In spite of protests in Moscow. When it was weak and indecisive the voice of reason was not listened to. Sergei Karaganov

The way the West has been conducting its policies towards Russia in the decades after the fall of the Iron Curtain, resembles very much the behavior towards Germany once it was defeated after the First World War. We translated those maneuvers as a second round of the Versailles policy. Remember how Germany was run into the corner? Eventually it became the source of the Second World War. To avoid the Weimer syndrome and to defend its interests Russia used almost forces.

That pushed us to arms several times: Chechenya, Georgia wars helped to heal the wounds. We gave signals already in Georgia but the expansion would not be tolerated, the West would not take that seriously.

The response of Russia has been a mixed one: on the one hand, patience, one that is defined in the ‘Great –Russian’s soul’ that has been hardened by history and suppleness to proposals coming from the West to apparently build a European continent with Russia, that is secure and prosperous; but eventually, we lost trust and became irritated by the West not listening to our concerns. The West, particularly US, has pursued a policy of soft containment in relation to Russia. If one goes back to the early 1990s, the understanding in between the two was different. If the Europeans would have been more rational, they would have singed a security treaty with Russia formally ending the Cold War. But our partners were too shortsighted or greedy.

The Cold Was left an ‘open wound’ in the heart of Europe that produces infections: the unresolved security order. This time the infection came from Ukraine, a semi failed state. Until we heal this open wound, this will invite other infections. Russia has engaged unwillingly in this new round of the Cold War. If the West wants to continue, then let them do, but we will have to respond to that.

With Crimea, torn away from Ukraine, thought to the joy of Crimea, Europe’s order has become more vulnerable. Our actions in Ukraine were not directed against Europe but against the West, policies, which is not unchecked would have led us forward a disaster.

Florin Pasatoiu: How would you assess the status quo of great powers relations?

Sergei Karaganov: When the West at least proclaimed to have won the Cold War, in practical terms they started to loose while the Rest (from Asia and Latin America) should begin to rise. I said on several occasions that there would come a time when globalization would backfire on those that initiated it. The countries of Asia were allowed to rise, when the West was celebrities what looked like an end of his history.

One of the side effects of globalization is that states are back on the global stage. The rise of the New is actually the rise of the states. The entire world moves just in the opposite direction to the West`s literal transnational principles. Yes, unfortunately, we are facing power politics back as the core of the international relations. Let us not forget that the balance of power is a European invention. But we infected Asia with it.

People are lamenting that Russia is playing by XIX century rules. Unfortunately, these are the rules of new postmodern game. I pray that they would not return to the Europe of the EU. And that it will keep its peaceful order.

If the West continues to destabilize the Russian security environment, Russia would pursue “soft containment” and even defer the worst elements of western policies. Russia is somehow influenced by the growing desire amongst a great number of states and populations against the West. If the clashes with the West continue, Russia would see itself as the symbol of the Rest, ready to fight and challenge the West. It is seen by some as the symbol of the non-West, which has to be defeated to brighten others. But of course Russian interests are narrower – to secure of immediate perimeter.

For the United States, at stake is its leader’s declining reputation and the risk of yet another humiliating defeat. The stakes are high also because Russia stands as a symbol of a rising and increasingly anti-Western “non-West.” The West is fighting against Russia, but it wants to intimidate China, India, and Brazil. A failure to put Russia in its place would mean to de facto concede a defeat of the world order, which the “victorious” West built for more than twenty years after the end of the Cold War?

No, I do not think so. Nevertheless, one should expect an increase in intra-states conflicts which will spill over and there might be inter-states ones. But with a threat of escalation A New Concert of Power? Yes, but that would be too good to be true. Over the horizon, probably in the next 20-30 years, may be. Yet, we do not know what technology has in store for us as surprises that may revolutionize the world.

When it comes to China, the establishment in there is positive about an inevitable confrontation with the US at one point. Hence, they would need Russia as an ally. As for the US, both Russia and the US seem to have entered a long period of not just keen rivalry, but almost confrontation; today the interests of both countries’ elites are definitely in a conflict. All of us will now have to live in a new reality.

While habitually proclaiming a policy aimed at maintaining peace and stability, albeit in a pro-American spirit, the U.S. de facto is proceeding to destabilize key regions of the world. This is a significant – if not a radical – change in Washington’s foreign-policy behavior. in order to weaken competitors and create conditions for a return in the future. Iraq has been destroyed; Libya has collapsed; and now it is Afghanistan’s turn. Attempts to divide Syria are continuing. The desperately unwise support for the Arab Spring, which was dictated by slim hopes for the strengthening of Western democracy in the world, has resulted in the weakening of mainly pro-American regimes. Essentially, the Middle East has become less stable.

Perhaps the chance for a normal relationship was lost after the bombing of Yugoslavia, which shocked even the most pro-Western members of the Russian elite. But Russian President Vladimir Putin tried again to normalize relations after the terrorist attacks on the United States – and failed. A new wave of NATO enlargement and the U.S withdrawal from the ABM Treaty followed.

The reset policy was a mistake, too. It was based on an artificial agenda that no one needed and which was inherited from the past (strategic arms reduction). At the same time, this policy ignored issues that were important to both parties – destabilization in the Greater Middle East and, most importantly, the destiny of the post-Soviet space. Nor was the reset aimed at the future – it did not envisage the development of interaction on a prospective agenda: climate change, the new situation in Asia, the Arctic, etc.

For the United States, at stake is its leader’s declining reputation and the risk of yet another humiliating defeat. The stakes are high also because Russia stands as a symbol of a rising and increasingly anti-Western “non-West.” The West is fighting against Russia, but it wants to intimidate China, India, and Brazil. A failure to put Russia in its place would mean to de facto concede a defeat of the world order, which the “victorious” West built for more than twenty years after the end of the Cold War. Another factor spurring the confrontation is a feeling, partly false and created by domestic propagandists, that Russia is a “colossus with feet of clay” that can be finished off.

We understand there is no chance at the moment to conduct ‘business as usual’ both with the EU and NATO, yet, in terms of resuming the functionality of the relations, is there any chance of a European Security Treaty? Florin Pasatoiu

Sergei Karaganov: Yes, I hope that Russia and the EU will get there in the next 4 to 5 years. Europe needs that a period of stability to come! The EU did three grave mistakes that indirectly affected our relations: the first one was the attempt to attain a Common Foreign and Security Policy, the second one stands on its two consecutive enlargements to the East, and the last was the creation of the Eurozone and the common currency. Without political union all these steps weathered EU. But EU health and stability is in Russia and everybody’s interests. EU is a peaceful solution for a continent, which for centuries was torn by conflict. As for the Eastern Partnership, we told them that they are pushing on with unwise policies. We said that theywere sacrificing the Ukrainian people.

A critical point where Russia clashes with the EU is what I call a “development stalemate”.

Russia lost trust in the European Union. Currently, the European project is ‘on hold’ from our side. We are not ready to invest anymore in this relation under the same terms as before. With Russia pivoting to Asia, both the EU and Russia would lose in terms of economics but the greatest loss would be in an increasing cultural and social void. Russia has an opening to the East; Europe has no opening, anymore. I hope we shall reserve the drift forward mutual estrangement.

Russia reactions in Ukraine is to stop NATO expansion and to eventually end the unfinished Cold War by a peace treaty that Russia has proposed several things over the last 20 years and was ignored. Ukraine was doomed the day it was offered Association Agreement and potential NATO membership. Ukraine was a semi-failed state, and now is a failed state; if we continue to fight in there Ukraine it will disintegrate into pieces. My country is waging a political war not a military one. My country has been attacked politically. Ukraine is the reflection of the crisis of security in Europe. Maybe we had a mentality of Cold War but the policy of Cold War was conducted by the West. Ukraine`s NATO membership was contemplated several times. For Russia it was vital threat – a two thousand kilometers harder with an alliance, which committed several aggressions: Yugo­slavia, Iraq, Libya.

Florin Pasatoiu: What is your reading to the situation in Ukraine? What way out from that?

Sergei Karaganov: Russia embarked on a strategy of confronting the U.S., without using the new opportunities that U.S. weakness might provide. As a result, Russia ended up engaging in rearguard action against the still strong adversary. It makes no sense now to discuss whether or not Russia could have achieved its goals in the crisis over Ukraine without a direct confrontation. It started and that is all.

There are no signs Russia is planning to withdraw from the confrontation. Firstly, some in Moscow seems interested in it. Having failed to develop and implement a credible and effective development concept and having only paid lip service to “modernization,” the Russian elite – both consciously and unconsciously – began to look for excuses for its inaction and turned to the idea of an external threat, which had always come in handy for the country that had for thousands of years been built around the idea of defense. At first, the “threat” was consistently inflated, but later it did emerge as a real crisis to hit the country. However, no mobilization for national development purposes took place, so there was nothing left but to pump up the threat alone.

The U.S. seems reluctant to step back from Ukraine, although a victory that would entail bringing the country into the Western orbit is hardly attainable considering the state of the Ukrainian economy, government, and society. The U.S. will seek to attain negative goals, such as preventing Ukraine from coming under Russia’s influence, deepening the division of Europe, and, increasingly obviously, weakening Russia, as the U.S. is barely concealing its desire to topple the ruling Russian regime and personally President Putin. The U.S. will try to involve Russia in a full-scale conflict with Ukraine, a sort of Afghanistan-2. The cost of such a policy is not great yet. It leads to a rapprochement between Russia and China, which is dangerous to the U.S., but the bulk of the price will be paid by Europe, Russia, and, of course, the long-suffering people of Ukraine, who have been pushed into the furnace of the new Cold War.

Now there is almost no chance for a quick exit from the clash. Theoretically, there is always the possibility of a sharp turn. Obama has no reason to fear elections, while Putin has strong positions inside Russia. However, the balance of interests and mutual irritation prevent the two parties from finding a compromise. The more probable turn of events is an escalation of the confrontation, even up to a military clash.

Is there any way out? I do not see any right now and I cannot rule out the worst-case scenario. Mutual distrust is over the top. There may be many more “black swans” – unforeseen disasters or provocations like the destruction of the Malaysian Boeing.

Despite the sharp rejection by Russia of the present Western policy and some Western values, hatred and contempt should not govern its behavior. Even if Russia “wins” – that is, if the U.S. enters yet another crisis and the EU starts bursting at the seams, which is quite probable – the situation may turn out to be no less complicated and dangerous. In the new, overly interdependent world, a falling enemy is as dangerous as an attacking enemy.

In looking for a settlement the best option is a treaty fixing the new status quo in Europe. The territory of what is now Ukraine should be either divided or, preferably, made an area of joint development. The same category includes other countries that create discord between great powers. However, it will be very hard to reach an agreement. The U.S. does not seem to be interested in a settlement. Ukraine is not independent and is rapidly losing its governability. It remains to be seen whether Germany and other European countries, which advocated close ties with Russia, will be able to take the initiative, which they have lost, along with confidence. The Ukrainian situation, which is threatening to collapse the peace on which the prosperity and influence of Europe rests, is a greater challenge for Europeans than for the U.S.

Russia needs peace in the West. Europeans need peace in Eastern Europe. Both players are faced with the risk of marginalization if they fail to overcome the division and pool their potentials and efforts. It is still possible to outline the contours of a compromise:

  • the eternal neutrality of Ukraine, codified in its constitution and guaranteed by external powers;
  • greater cultural autonomy for eastern and southeastern Ukraine;
  • economic openness of Ukraine to the East and the West (ideally, a compromise allowing Ukraine to be both in association with the EU and in the Customs Union);
  • Russian and German joint support for the economic development of Ukraine;
  • termination by all involved, including Russia, of support for the sides in the civil war, and an appeal to them to renounce the use of force;
  • evacuation of refugees and resistance fighters;
  • mutual renunciation of sanctions and counter-sanctions.

However, this is a distant prospect. Yet there seems to be no other solution. The alternative is a lukewarm civil war in the heart of Europe with the growing threat of disasters (there are 15 nuclear reactors in Ukraine), decades of misery for the Ukrainian people, and deaths ranging from tens to hundreds of thousands of people – not only in conflicts, but also because of the degradation of vital services and the healthcare system.

Some people in West, too, are putting forward similar proposals; naturally with a bias towards their own interests and ideology. One can only hope that diplomacy will be given a chance before this crisis escalates to the next level and a new war breaks out in Europe. 

[1] The Interview includes also notes from Sergei Karaganov article Russia and the U.S.: A Long Confrontation?, retrieved from http://eng.globalaffairs .ru/number/Russia-and-the-US-A-Long-Confrontation-16990 on Friday 31st , October 2014.

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