German political scientist Alexander Rahr summed up the development of relations between Russia and the West after the collapse of the USSR
October 7 2014 at the National Research University Higher School of Economics with the assistance of the Civil Society Development Fund hosted a lecture by the German political scientist Alexander Rahr on the topic “Russia's Foreign Policy in Zero Years: The Beginning of a Multipolar World”. "Russian Planet" publishes the main provisions of his speech.
Future historians may argue about the role of zero years for Russia. Some will believe that this was the time when the country returned to its true path, and that the events of the Yeltsin era were historical a misunderstanding. But there are many others who will say that it was in the 1990s that Russia first gained freedom, which was subsequently lost.
The last decade of the 20th century in the mass consciousness appears exclusively in a negative way. This was largely due to the economic disaster that befell the country at that time. But perhaps in a few years a completely new chapter of Russian history will open, which will lead its continuity precisely from the 1990's, and then the current time may well be seen as a path to nowhere. It is now impossible to predict the course of further development of the country.
Russia and the West under Yeltsin
After the collapse of the USSR, Russia embarked on the path of democratization and economic reform in accordance with the Western liberal model. Capitalism, private property, a multiparty system and a free press appeared in the country, its citizens were able to travel abroad and travel the world. The elites of the West hoped that the new Russia would become its strategic partner. The democratic unification of Europe after the Cold War was not seen without the participation of free Russia. The old stereotypes regarding Russia, which were formed for decades and even centuries, began to disappear. The West was grateful to Gorbachev and Yeltsin for the peaceful end of the Cold War. Russia has ceased to be a danger to the United States and Europe, they were ready to accept it as a partner. The end of half a century of confrontation with the USSR in the West was perceived as a historic victory of liberalism and the Euro-Atlantic system of values.
But the main institutions of the new world order for the West were NATO and the European Union, which began to gradually expand eastward. As compensation, Russia was included in the G8 group, the Russia-NATO Council was created, and Moscow participated in peacekeeping operations in the Balkans. Logic prompted that with further developments, the United States could soon leave Europe, dissolve NATO, and hand over European security issues to Europe.
But at the same time, the contradictions in relations between Russia and Europe grew. After 1991, the trend to contain Russia began to take shape in the West, and then prevail, in order to prevent the re-establishment of the “Russian empire”, which was still feared. At the same time, Russia stubbornly believed that the United States and Europe would sooner or later agree that Russia will gradually restore its traditional status of a great power.
Russia in the 1990-s has never been able to articulate its foreign policy interests. Most of the ruling elite sincerely stretched toward the West, seeing in it Russia's partner in modernization. But there remained another, a significant part of society and the elite, which thought exclusively of imperial categories and former ideas about the national interests of the country. In the West, it was felt that Russia is seeking partnership with it just for the sake of prestige.
Russia and the West under Putin
It remains unclear which foreign policy strategy was guided by Vladimir Putin, becoming president in 2000. In the first years of his rule, in many respects, it seemed that he was very sincere in his desire to link Russia's interests with the West and even go for more serious integration into Euro-Atlantic structures. But today, most analysts come to the conclusion that Russia, from the very beginning of Putin’s presidency, tried to recreate itself as an independent and autonomous world power center. To this end, she took the initiative to lay the foundation for a new multi-polar world order, which is now emerging in torment before our eyes.
A convoy of armored personnel carriers and trucks with Russian military personnel leaves Georgian territory 13 September 2008. Photo: Zurab Kurtsikidze / EPA / TASS
Putin and the security forces created by him refused to join Russia to the West, putting the country on a “national-state” path of development. Putin changed the state system by creating a so-called managed democracy. At the same time, Putin prevented the threat of Russia's disintegration as a result of the conflict in Chechnya, after the short war with Georgia in 2008, Abkhazia and South Ossetia were under the control of Moscow, and later the Crimea was annexed. Perhaps soon, with the assistance of Russia, unrecognized states will appear on the territory of eastern Ukraine.
Almost immediately after Putin came to power, Russia had a geopolitical conflict with the United States, which was difficult to imagine in the 1990s. Subsequently, the European Union was involved in this confrontation on the side of the United States. The essence of the conflict was that the United States tried to contain Russia, which, from their point of view, threatened America's influence and global interests. Russia was viewed as a kind of “bully” who creates its globally operating institutions, contrary to the opinion of the West. Indeed, while powerful China, although not concealing its hostility towards a unipolar world, tried to avoid conflict with the West, Russia often provoked them, taking on the role of instigator. The culmination of cooling relations in the zero years was the war with Georgia in 2008. After that, the West stopped responding to any proposals from Moscow, even constructive ones.
The economic crisis of 2008 of the year gave the West and Russia a unique chance to confront it together and restore mutual cooperation and trust. But this did not happen, Western countries did not allow Russian capital into their economies. The European states, fearing falling into dependence on the supply of energy resources from Russia, began to look for alternative sources of import of hydrocarbons. Plans to build new pipelines to Europe were blocked, Gazprom was offered to use the existing infrastructure. As a result, the European Union and Russia were selected separately from the crisis, which still negatively affects their economic performance.
The conflict in Ukraine in 2014 and the subsequent mutual sanctions further alienated Russia and Europe from each other, possibly for many years.
As a result, during the zero years, visas were not canceled (for Russians traveling to the EU and the USA - RP), there was no progress in creating general rules for economic cooperation. By the end of the 2000s, it became obvious that, under the current leadership of Russia, its paths with the West diverged. For Russia, the question of who, if not the West, will be able to become a partner for the modernization of the economy for it has acquired particular urgency. Some hope in the West was pinned on the Medvedev presidency, but Putin’s return in 2012 year led to a new round of tensions in the relationship. And at the same time, the implicit, and then all the more obvious reorientation of Russia to cooperation with China, began to appear.
The only positive moment over the years in Moscow’s relations with the West has become the Russian corridor for the supply of NATO troops in Afghanistan.
Why did not work out
The tragedy of the failure of the partnership between Russia and the European Union at the beginning of the 21st century will hurt in the future their relations. Both sides are guilty of this failure. Russia's mistake is a clear assessment of the 1991 events of the year as a geopolitical catastrophe. The fact that as a result of this, the country freed itself from the hardest legacy of the Soviet era was underestimated and neglected by the Russian elites. At the same time, the West treated Russia as a country that lost the Cold War. On the contrary, everyone won from her graduation.
Russia considered the EU solely as a pragmatic business partner and as a market for energy resources. At the same time, the European Union was determined to establish partnerships with Russia only on the basis of common values - democracy, human rights, rather than pragmatic interests. With this approach, Russia constantly felt like a schoolboy, whom the morally superior West tried to teach the rules of behavior in the future “common European home”. For a proud and self-sufficient Russia, this approach was unacceptable, and for Europe it was unacceptable that Russia, instead of moving towards democracy, became increasingly authoritarian.
Vladimir Putin at a joint press conference following the Russia-European Union meeting in Brussels 28 January 2014. Photo: Sergey Guneev / RIA News
It should be understood that it is not enough for Europe to have only a pragmatic partnership with Russia, following the example of China. He was always considered a different civilization, while Russia was viewed by Europeans as part of a “big Europe” from Lisbon to Vladivostok. The EU believed that Europe would only become truly strong and prosperous when there would be democracy in its Western understanding throughout its territory, including Russia. Thus, the European elites had clearly overestimated expectations with respect to Russia and the speed of its susceptibility to European values.
With bitterness, we must admit that the beginning of the XXI century was a lost time for the creation of a "common European home." Both sides felt that they were not so necessary for each other in order to sacrifice something for the sake of this goal.
As for Germany, from year to year it tried to involve Russia in solving serious issues of European security. Now the position of the German establishment is somewhat twofold: on the one hand, almost the entire elite supports sanctions against Russia, because in the West they fear that what is happening in Ukraine may be continued in other territories bordering Russia, and on the other, in Berlin Russia to be able to continue the dialogue.
It must be borne in mind that now in power in Germany there is a generation that remembers the terrible past of the 20th century and does not want to enter into confrontation with Russia. It also remembers the role of the USSR in the reunification of Germany in 1990 year. But now he is being replaced by a young formation of leaders, which is spared from all this. It is primarily focused on the observance of democratic values, and in this regard, the current policy of Russia towards Ukraine is unacceptable for it.
Unlike Germany, the United States and some other European countries have always insisted that Russia exaggerates its importance and possibilities. Washington and its allies in Eastern Europe believed that it was not necessary to react to Russia and its proposals, and that it should first be modernized in accordance with their ideas.
With more prudent diplomacy, for example, there was a chance to avoid a disastrous scenario in Ukraine in 2014. The West tried to understand the true motives of the Kremlin, after all, it is no secret that Western government circles no longer trust Russia, suggesting that the real goal of its policy is not cooperation with the West, but strengthening Russia as one of the center of the future multipolar world. Moscow began to be publicly accused of trying to recreate an empire in the post-Soviet space. The fact that in the middle of the zero years the countries of Eastern Europe and the Baltic States joined the ranks of NATO and the European Union, which began to promote their policy options in relation to Russia, also played their part.
The Ukrainian factor
If recently it was believed in Europe that Russia's policy contradicts European values, now the opinion that Russia directly threatens the security of Europe, at least its individual countries, is becoming increasingly dominant. The current crisis in Ukraine is the culmination of small and medium-sized conflicts between Russia and the West over the past few years: the Chechen war, the Yukos affair, the murder of Politkovskaya.
The point of view that is widespread in Russia is that in Eastern European countries, including Ukraine, European politicians are betting on ultra-radical or even fascist forces that are not true. In Europe, support the current president of Ukraine Petro Poroshenko. Neither the “Right Sector” Yarosh, nor the Freedom Party, of the European elites, are popular, just like now Yulia Tymoshenko.
Why Europe stretches to America
Even 30-40 years ago, anti-American relations in Europe were very strong, but now they are completely marginalized. After World War II in Europe, people are accustomed to comfort and safety. And all this can provide only an alliance with the United States, and the Europeans are aware of this.
The Russian flag on the car militia in Kramatorsk Donetsk region 13 May 2014 of the year. Photo: Mikhail Pochuev / TASS
Moreover, it is believed that it was the Americans who, during the war, saved Europe from Hitler, and after it ended - from Stalin. In addition, Europeans and Americans share common values: democracy, the inviolability of the rights and freedoms of a citizen, and tolerance. Europeans do not think that in a strategic alliance with the United States they occupy a subordinate position, they consider themselves to be equal partners. It should be understood that Western countries in general and the European Union in particular are united not so much by a single economic basis, as by common civilizational values.
The current conflict in Ukraine will end faster than we think. It may still be slowly fading, but soon it will be eclipsed by a more large-scale and serious confrontation, in particular in the Middle East. Inevitably cooperation between Russia and the West in the fight against Islamic extremism, which threatens both of them. We are united not only by common cultural and civilizational roots, but also by similar problems, such as the rapid decline in population. To survive in the future world, we are doomed to cooperation, to cooperation.
The next decade will be a serious test for Russia. The country will feel discomfort, feeling itself sandwiched between Europe and China. For her it is dangerous. The West will not abandon the policy of engaging Russia's western neighbors (Ukraine, Belarus and Moldova) in its sphere of influence. China, in turn, will not refuse to strengthen its presence in Central Asia through the policy of the “new silk road”. It is not excluded that the renewed Middle East, where the confrontation between Sunnis and Shiites is now beginning to redistribute borders, will become a new powerful pole of the world order capable of attracting the southern part of the post-Soviet space.
In the foreseeable future, the same processes and conflicts will continue as in previous years. For example, in Russia before 2024, power is unlikely to change.
The zero years nevertheless determined the contours of the new world order. It is safe to say that the conflict of the future will occur along the North-South line, not the East-West line.