One-sided power

By Sergey Karaganov, an honorable Chairman of the General Committee of the Foreign and Defense Policy Council

Russia wins in foreign policy but this is not enough to preserve the status of one of the great powers


Several decades ago the USSR was called the Upper Volta with missiles. The hint was offensive, but fair to a great extent. Its main claim for the role of the second superpower was military power.


Now Russia is in its best state. It has threw off the military yoke pressing the USSR where army and defense-industrial complex absorbed one fourth or even more – no one really knows exactly – not of a budget but the GNP. But having lost a lot, including a part of native territories, Russia has preserved the status of a nuclear superpower, and the place in the DC UNO.


From the beginning of 2000-s Russia has had luck finally. The development of Asia intensified the demand on tradition Russian export goods – raw materials, energy carriers, metals, wet industry goods.


They also had a geopolitical luck. Long-standing competitors went down simultaneously. The USA – because of several sequential large-scale defeats – in Iraq and Afghanistan.


Europe – due to the combination of consequences of too rapid EU and EURO-zone expansion and unwillingness of the most countries (except for Germany and Scandinavian countries) to refuse of the consumption-oriented development model.


Weakening of West has, of course, negative results. Weakened are also modernization impulses which had always come from where the sun goes down during the total history of Russia. This has strengthened in Russian society traditionally strong isolation-oriented and uncompetitive public layers, which have expressly activated to counteract everything western – an in reality  - most often the most advances and effective. Although a threat from West – is it military or spiritual – is unprecedentedly miserable.


Not only luck, but also something extremely “manmade” – hard policy and master diplomacy, allowing maximizing the positions of the country – are now the main source of international power and prestige of Russia.


Russian diplomacy is quite conventional, but it turns out to be extremely appropriate in a modern globalized but increasingly losing controllability world, where peoples, having got frightened of its challenges, have rushed back to a weak state which however is still able to defend their interests. Where we observe re-nationalization of international relations. Where the norms of law, moral, decency, which have been defining international relations yet in recent past, are denied.


In this world Russian diplomacy, which has preserved and promoted its mastership, but which is not burdened with ideology or values except for unconditional protection of the country’s sovereignty and, probably, have routed for the last 300 years in national identity of superpower, takes to like a duck to water.


The last example of such diplomacy is a daring Syrian gambit in 2013 with a suggestion to eliminate Syrian chemical weapon.


But there had been enough successful solutions beforehand. Russia has expressly strengthened its positions within the territory of the former USSR. Although with contradictions and slowly, but it develops not only the Customs, but also the Eurasian Union. In a fight for Ukraine between West and Russia it is impossible to win without cooperation with the EU, forcing Kiev to attach to discreet policy line. But yet the fight goes on and Russia has greater scores.


In Asia with yet weak economic trumps is craftily maneuvering in the triangles  Russia – China – USA and Russia – Japan – China, being always a winning third party. It maintain warm and friendly relations with China, but simultaneously develops friendly and constructive relations with the states, surrounding China, including not only India but also Vietnam, South Korea and Japan.


Russian diplomacy plays perfectly also within Iranian direction. Together with western countries Russia is a part of hard economic pressure on Teheran in the attempt to prevent its becoming a military nuclear power. At the same time Moscow steadily and successfully have impeded setting off a war against Iran, which would have inevitably resulted in the need for Russia to make a choice. Eventually it didn’t argue with a geopolitically important southern neighbor, which was constructive during the war in Chechnya, within the situation in Caucasus in general and assisted to settle down the crises in Central Asia.


Quite rapidly and with minimum costs Russia take the niches establishing within Near East due to the withdrawal of the exhausted USA. Russia not only has correct relations with Iran, but almost good with Israel, also relations with Egypt are improving.


We can treat differently the hard determination of Russian official policy to cut off foreign influence on domestic policy. Via limitation of options for Russian NPOs financing as well as via reduction of options for Russian officials to hold assets and property abroad. And also via unwillingness to discuss with western partners domestic political situation in Russia. I think that pressure against NPOs, yet not compensated, has made more harm than benefit, by demoralizing Russian civil activity. And without it just as without rehabilitation of district councils – municipal level of power – the country shall not develop.


But as a result more politicians and analysts conclude that external pressure towards Russia on the issues of domestic policy is not productive.


Yet the net cost of such policy is not really big. Moreover that the West has other priorities than pressure. It is divided. And often needs Russia.


Russia foreign policy also has weaknesses. Many embassies are closed from the communities of accepting countries almost more than during the USSR. The turn to Asia is not supported with the strategy on new exploration of Siberia and Far East and it hangs down. Yet until recently most observers treated with sarcasm the readiness of Moscow – whether it is needed or not – to confront the USA demonstratively.


But talking pseudo-scientifically these and other defects do not cover the main conclusion: recent foreign policy and diplomacy of Russia have been extremely successful.


The USSR was a unilateral military-political power. Russia is turning into a unilateral diplomatic power, which does not have other sources of force or which does not use those. Naturally it is better to rely on Putin and Lavrov than on missiles. But still it Is unilateral, which means not reliable.


Of course if current destabilization of the world increases, Russia with its diplomacy supported by enhanced and modernized military options, will be able to maintain its place in the three of leading powers for some time. But the stake on instability is not stable. Moreover that one of its hypostasis – Near East – sooner or later shall cover Russia.


With extension of energy supplies from Africa, Asia and naturally because of shale revolution the oil and gas power of country reduces. Economic growth retardation in Asia reduced political value of Russian natural resources. Even more important is that unsolved problems of Russian economy are accumulating. Worsening of mid-term prospects of economic development already cuts off current foreign political power, readiness to consider the interests or respect the opinion of Moscow.


Hardly President Obama would allow himself to refuse of the Summit with the authorities of China, who represent the most dynamic and second after the USA economy of the world, as he did in September when he refused of Russian-American Summit. Although the actions of these Chinese authorities incite at least irritation and concerns in Washington.


Soft hardening of German rhetoric  in relation to Russia is connected also with the estimations  of a long0term reduction of dependence of Europe and Germany from Russian energy carriers and pessimistic forecasts of the Russian market’s prospects. This has weakened the positions of German business community, which played a crucial part in determination of policy within Russian direction.


And finally due to the lack of active and targeted policy of development Russia is simply not of an interest for many partners. This is pretty obvious for any permanent participant of international forums. Including me.


Even greater concern, than current problems, is called by long-term foreign policy prospects. And exactly due to weakening of domestic basis of foreign policy. Technological underrun of Russia grows. It not only does not almost participate in development of new technological practice, but does not even understand what it is. Pessimism dominates in society. Russian people have started losing drive.


I could have omitted preceding paragraphs in the article devoted to foreign political positions of Russia.  Only that dead-end of development and pessimism are easily noted by the external world and undermine these positions.


By this the focus of competition in the world more determinedly shifts to economic-technological and ideological-informational spheres. The role of military power has stayed. But it solve the problems at the second-third level of relations and between secondary powers. Main power can’t allow its covered use because of nuclear stalemate. And when they use – they lose more often.


The winners in the competition are those able to produce new technologies and/or implement them in economy efficiently, massively and promptly. Or those who can dictate and suggest beneficial ideas with the use of modern communications. And the most important – those, who create and attract people able to do all this.


And here is my main point. Russia has the chance to preserve the status of one of the superpowers. But the stakes on master diplomacy are not enough for this. It should tune the state and people  for the promotion of weakened but still strong human capital – by advanced education, health case and high culture of the nation, with extended investment into young generation. Development of human capital of the country should become the new national idea for the generation. If we do that the world shall rapidly note the prospect of future economic and social promotion and current inevitable few-years underrun shall not result in the loss of foreign political power. The country will have future.


We need also a large-scale inspiring, but economically profitable development plan, targeted on future.


Evidently such project should be the new exploration of Siberia and Far East, which have been discussed for a long time, with the use of technologies and capitals from Europe, America, advanced Asian countries, naturally China – this would attach Russia to the Pacific Ocean locomotive of growth and turn it into a great not only European, but also Asian-Pacific superpower. How – it’s pretty obvious. But this is already a subject for an individual article. This one I will end with the statement that for the on-coming decade the main reserve of foreign political power of Russia rests mostly in the sphere of domestic development. There we also observed the main threats of losing so beloved by most Russian people status of the superpower.


The article is based on the researched of the Foreign and Defense Policy Council SVOP within the frames of the “Strategy XXI” program targeted to develop and introduce the society and state government the ways of development, alternative to the current ones leading to dead-end, second class. The full version of the article shall be published in the magazine “Russia in Global Affairs”.