That was the backdrop to this year’s annual Valdai Discussion Club conference, held in Russia’s southern city of Sochi and attended by President Vladimir Putin and other top dignitaries. The theme, fittingly, was ‘Global Shake-Up in the 21st Century: The Individual, Values and the State’, and the question attendees were grappling with was how Russia should respond to the rapid transformation of the world.
The modern capitalist system, as Putin put it, “has run out of steam” – it is under immense pressure because Western states are overburdened by debt, the stock market has decoupled from the real economy, and the concentration of wealth is intensifying and destabilizing society. As a result, inflation is likely to soon ravage the world economy.
Among other manifestations of ‘woke’ ideology, the West is also seemingly in the midst of a cultural revolution in terms of liberating itself from its own past by purging its own history, culture, values, and biological reality. Moreover, the historic principle of free speech to ensure an open society is being replaced with unprecedented censorship in the US and elsewhere.
Meanwhile, power continues to shift to the East, and the West does not know how to respond to falling behind. Its mentality has been shaped by 500 years of supremacy, meaning its armory is stocked with counter-productive actions such as sanctions, a reluctance to abide by international agreements, provocative military posturing, and the demonization of adversaries.
Aiming to sum up the thoughts of many, Putin referenced the Chinese proverb “God forbid living in a time of change,” as major change produces instability and crisis. Yet the president also noted that the Chinese word for crisis consisted of two hieroglyphs: danger and opportunity. The objective for Russia is to mitigate the danger and seize the opportunities that arise from the demise of an untenable old order. The dying international order consists of Western unipolarity, liberal universalism, and military blocs. The new order will embrace Eurasian multipolarity, conservatism, and the end of military alliances.
As we met in Sochi, the impression I gained from Putin’s speech was that the solution to and opportunity offered by the current great disruptions is multipolarity within the Greater Eurasian Partnership. Multipolarity implies the establishment of a parallel economic architecture that is less reliant on US technologies, industries, transportation corridors, financial institutions, and the dollar. Much like the global ecosystem relies on biodiversity to survive, so, too, the international economic system requires decentralization and diversity to absorb the crisis, rather than placing all its eggs in the US-centric basket. China is evidently the most important partner with which Russia can construct this multipolar system. This was reflected in Putin’s speech, in which he kept referencing cooperation with Beijing, quoting Chinese expressions, praising Chinese wisdom, and referring to “our Chinese friends.”
Liberal universalism and a hegemony in which the US transforms the world in its own image has also come to an end, and Putin advocated strongly for a “healthy conservatism” as each state pursues development consistent with its unique history, traditions, and culture. The excesses of liberalism have dismantled its conservative counterweight in the West and resulted in liberalism decoupling from the nation-state, radical secularism degrading into anti-Christian sentiments, and gender ideology rejecting basic biological realities that are then pushed onto children.
Putin opined that the current cultural revolution in the West was aiming to create entirely new social realities in a manner reminiscent of the Bolshevik Revolution, rewriting history, destroying monuments, undermining the traditional family as the central institution, fighting faith, denouncing cultural roots, and crushing all dissent in the name of equality, justice, and tolerance.
Putin stated that Russia would not form a Russia-China military bloc and said, “We are friends with China, and not against anyone else, but in each other’s interests.” This sentiment had been expressed by Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov two days earlier at the same conference. Lavrov said Russia did not make allies in opposition to a third country and pursued a strategy of “getting along” with everyone, instead of than succumbing to an international system of alliances. Russia aims to ensure that its close relations with, for example, both China and Japan, or Iran and Israel, are not contradictory and, rather, elevate Moscow’s role to that of a peacemaker. Once Russia joins with one side against the other, the international system fragments into rival alliances, and states are divided into friends and enemies. Instead, security should be achieved with other states, not against other states.
Regressing into an alliance-based security architecture would undermine the overarching objective of integrating the Greater Eurasian space from the Atlantic to the Pacific. Moscow has been reluctant to define its strategic relationship with China as an “alliance” because that would infer it is allied against another nation. The common threat from the US has obviously intensified its strategic partnership with China, although its objective is to develop a solid foundation not reliant on opposition to an external power. The main agenda for Russia and China is thus to establish a new international economic architecture with strategic cooperation in high-tech industries, transportation corridors, financial instruments, and regional institutions, all of which are mutually beneficial initiatives.
For the past 300 years, Russia has pursued a Western-centric foreign policy by seeking either to align with or against the West. The Greater Eurasian Partnership is neither pro-Western nor anti-Western. Instead, it aims to reduce the importance of cooperation and competition with the West. The lesson from these three centuries has been that the West cannot accommodate Russia within the West, and that Western unity relies largely on opposing Russia. Moscow’s decision to suspend cooperation in the NATO-Russia Council is indicative of its conviction that the diplomacy with the anti-Russian military alliance has become counter-productive and a waste of energy.
It is tempting for state A and B to merely cooperate against state C, although the endurance of the partnership will then be hostage to continued hostility against state C. Case in point: NATO’s expansionism and its decision to go ‘out-of-area’ – that is, to pursue interventionism – after the Cold War was taken out of the necessity to create a new reason to exist. As these policies revived conflicts with Russia, NATO has become a military alliance that exists to deal with the conflicts caused by its own existence.
The principal dilemma for NATO today is that continued hostility towards Russia pushes it closer to China, although easing tensions with Russia undermines the foundation for Western unity. This dilemma manifests itself as a schizophrenic US foreign policy in which Washington attempts to reassure Russia about its benign intentions while concurrently stoking the flames in Ukraine.
At a time when Russia is developing a partnership with China that is not based on opposition to the West, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg put his Cold War mentality on display by arguing that the bloc should not treat Moscow and Beijing as separate threats. However, if the West chooses to see the two countries as a unified challenge to be dealt with, its leaders can hardly be surprised when the two stand united in opposition to it.
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The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.
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