History, nonetheless, is not accustomed to come to a standstill. New international actors started to assert themselves, first regionally then globally. The “new influentials” were feeling uneasy about increasing concentration of economic and political clout by multinationals, aggravation of interregional and intercontinental inequalities, marginalisation of lower classes and environmental degradation.
The “Globalisation versus Sovereignty” debate in post-Communist Russia is highly instructive. Neo-liberal “reforms through globalisation” (“vassalage” according to William Engdahl, the American political analyst) associated with Boris Yeltsin and Yegor Gaidar drastically deteriorated Russia’s economy and society. World history itself evidenced against “spontaneous” modernisation in conditions of non-existent necessary prerequisites, that is market institutions.
As a “later take-off” society (genetically similar to that of, say, Italy), Russia exhibited a much deeper “developmental gap” between traditional and modern sectors of national economy. Transcontinental dimensions of Russia’s landmass made the State a pivotal instrument of rapid economic growth and balanced social development. “Classical” west European scenario of state/civil society relationship proved entirely irrelevant in Russia’s developmental context.
Nowadays, State’s role under globalisation has become the dominant theme of domestic political discourse in Russia. The focus of debate is centred around the notion of “Developmental State”. This institution conceptualised more than four decades back by the American scholar Chalmers Johnson has been instrumental of advancing economic growth along with social progress. The “Developmental State” concept is deep-seated in elite-society consensus originated by Japan’s Meiji Restoration of 1868. National accord is founded on the supremacy of sovereignty that under no circumstances can be sacrificed.
The “Developmental State” is non-existent in today’s Russia. However, the inexorable imperative of sovereignty that has acquired an all-Russia status under the Crimea consensus will push society, the elites and masses alike to an indigenous version of “Developmental State”.
After the demise of the Soviet Union, the West has done its utmost to isolate and weaken Russia. It is relevant to note that long-term policy goals of Russia (USSR and, previously, Russian Empire) were targeted to the Eurasian landmass and never were a threat to America’s pivotal interests.
One significant part of America’s geostrategic design was the transformation of Europe, “old” and “new”, into a part of US-centric West. In fact, the European Union was treated as a bridgehead for America on the entire Euro-Afro-Asian geopolitical space. The “new” doctrine of Russia’s containment was outspokenly denounced by Vladimir Putin during his speech at the 43rd Conference on Security Policy (Munich, 10 February 2007).
The actual “domestic” context of Russia’s foreign policy is ultimately shaped by the “Crimea consensus” that means: 1) pro-active initiatives in international relations in the interests of the country and its people, not dictated from outside (as was the case of the 1990s); 2) return to the model of development implying rapid economic growth, maximal possible employment, equitable distribution of national income. (The Indian equivalent is “growth with equity”). According to numerous public opinion poll surveys, the Russians are increasingly sensitive to higher international profile of the country acquired after a decade of internal turmoil (retrocession of the Crimea and participation in Syria’s regulation are only two notable manifestations of popular sentiments), are keen on accelerated economic growth up to 6-7% annually and are loyal to the existent political institutions. Developing this argument a little bit further, the people are of the view that “neoliberal project” has proved invalid; the fiasco has been emphasised by the slash of hydrocarbons prices on global markets.
The obvious byproduct of “neoliberal reforms” has been loss of orientation within Russia’s political elites, all these years preoccupied with “political technologies”, instead of focusing on social engineering (transformation of obsolete socio-economic structure) and strengthening of pivotal foundations of state and society. The exacerbation of political tensions was directly engendered by in-born deficiencies of “peripheral capitalism” paradigm chosen by Russia’s ruling class in the early 1990s. Therefore, even liberal voters accounting for approximately 15-20% of the electorate are reluctant to support “neoliberal” economic policies. Some economists of the left-of-centre orientation like argue that “neoliberal reforms” from the very outset have been devoid of goal-setting. Putting it differently, “reforms” have been helpless to respond to a simple professional question: how to bring Russia’s socioeconomic structure to the set-up of industrially advanced nations?
Assessing Russia’s chances of going global, one should take into account laws of history that shape the development of such a huge country. Modern Russian society, moving from the rural to urban stage of development, is diversifying on its own. Needless to say, during inter-stage transition, this kind of society requires strong, capable and efficient executive power to offset the relative weakness and underdevelopment of horizontal linkages in economy and society at large. Similarly (in this I fully agree with Stephen Cohen, a noted American scholar of Russian history), the period of transition is in need of effective legislative power to reimburse lack of maturity of societal structures put under rapid economic and cultural transformation.
A foreign readership needs to be advised on Russia’s “unique” capacity to “move” under its own momentum, and this inertia is responsible for ascending and descending developmental trends and cycles. Put another way, Russia is too “inertial” to be susceptible to destructive impacts of “colour revolutions”, even under the stress of social turmoil of the “roaring 1990s” and the early 21st century.
NO QUICK SOLUTION
It goes without saying that there is no quick solution to the fundamental problems Russia is facing. According to the present author, two basic issues are to be tackled without delay. Firstly, it is necessary to restore the balance of responsibility between the executive and the legislative, since the 1993 Constitution, which tremendously expanded the prerogatives of the former ultimately served to pose new challenges instead of efficiently finding the solution to existing ones. Secondly, there is an urgent need for introduction of a coherent socioeconomic strategy, understandable and encouraging for all Russia’s major political forces offering them to participate in modernisation efforts and obtain adequate material rewards.
One is to confess that “neoliberal policies” have failed to create a stratum of statesmen of a new, “post-Soviet” class capable of handling economy and consolidating Russian society on an up-to-date level of political equilibrium. The basic precondition for any serious dialogue with the people is honest and objective estimation of the “Yeltsin years” as an instrument of economic, political and cultural decay of Russian society (“de-democratisation”, according to Stephen Cohen). Popular criticism is encouraged by evaluation of the modern Russian “bourgeoisie” as an underdeveloped, dependent hybrid, whose cherished political ambition is to have Russia a subordinated, peripheral “space” in the global system it occupied under Nicolas II, the last emperor.
The irony of today’s global history is that the world has ceased to be western-centred, whilst the industrialising and “manufacturing” nations of the Asia-Pacific have acquired the position of its “driving forces”. Under the newly emerged scenario, Russia might be completely pushed to the fringe of world economic system and global politics. As demonstrated by events of the recent three to five years, most Russians are vehemently opposed to such a “destiny” for their nation. In the early 21st century, the “vassalage”, notes the American analyst William Engdahl, means alienation of a part of sovereignty to external centres of influence accompanied by predatory exploitation of the nation’s natural resources (“the plunder of the state”, according to the noted economist Baldev Raj Nayar). So far as Russia is concerned, this “mode of existence” is exhausted.
One question is waiting to be answered: why has Russia’s revival been “overlooked” by the western “strategic elites”? In the present author’s view, two basic reasons are to be kept in mind. Number one: the dismemberment of the Soviet Union has been understood as the beginning of “inescapable” weakening (if not disintegration) of Russia. Little attention has been paid to the fact that Russia itself had engineered the break-up of Soviet Union. A non-classical “empire” (like Austria of the Habsburgs, in a sense), Russia, under geopolitical compulsions (a necessity to maintain its “outer contour of security”) was compelled to develop its “periphery” in the form of “subventions”. And that “imperial tribute” was the basic source of Russia’s relative underdevelopment. The overwhelming part of “donations” was granted to the Ukraine, and this kind of “assistance” became institutionalised through the mechanism of CPSU Central Committee tightly controlled, after Stalin’s death, by the Ukrainian party organisation headed initially by Khrushchev and then by Brezhnev. The “divorce” of 1991, in Russia, was perceived as stoppage of an opulent “charity” and beginning of a delayed domestic modernisation.
Number two: the West, now devoid of external incentives for its internal advancement, was gradually losing its sense of vitality aggravated by outside military interventions. The imperial “overextension” (in the words of Stratfor’s George Friedman) has proved instrumental of geopolitical decline and numerous challenges to political elites that are handling Western economic and political systems. On its part, Russia is recovering from “psychological crisis” (as articulated by the eminent Russian America scholar Yassen Zassoursky) or “history tiredness” (to comprehend the phenomenon academically) and is beginning to reassert itself as a once-forgotten world power.
The Russians are frequently and rightly rebuked for their lack of history memory. Nowadays, the people of Russia seem to be united to express gratitude to the West for the impeccable “history lesson” our nation has been taught after the dismemberment of the Soviet Union. This gratitude will definitely be transformed into a realistic vision of other countries as well as their genuine intentions and “hidden agendas”.
Andrey Volodin, Doctor of Sciences (History), is affiliated with Russian Academy of Sciences (Institute of World Economy and International Relations) and Diplomatic Academy, Ministry for Foreign Affairs, Russian Federation.