Russia and the West: How To Arrange the World

Pro-Kremlin analyst examines Russia’s efforts to assert itself in
global affairs

Rossiyskaya Gazeta, Moscow
26 Jul 07

[Interview with Vyacheslav Nikonov, president of the Politika
Foundation, conducted by Yelena Kalyadina in Moscow; date not given:
"Russia and the West: How To Arrange the World"]

Vyacheslav Nikonov: Belarus is Russia’s natural ally.

Russia is more and more conclusively acquiring confidence in itself.
The initiatives of the Russian president advanced in an extremely short
period of time – the Munich speech, his addresses at the German G8
summit meeting and the St Petersburg Economic Forum, and finally his
proposals during the meeting with his American colleague in
Kennebunkport – permit us to draw the conclusion that based on the new
realities, Russia is proposing to arrange the world in a new way –
fairly and to mutual advantage. The SOYuZ correspondent talks with
Vyacheslav Nikonov, the well-known Russian political analyst and
president of the Politika [Politics] Foundation, about the possible
reaction to the current Russian international "quick march."

[Nikonov] A change produced by dissatisfaction with how Russia’s
relations with the West are taking shape is indeed evident in Russia’s
policies. We are now looking at a very broad circle of questions very
differently. This problem is fundamental and long term. In order to
present it, I will give a little history. After the dissolution of the
Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War, illusions appeared that we
would rapidly find ourselves in a non-confrontational world where
Russia would be a member of the Western club. But that did not happen.
For the West expectations that Russia would rapidly be transformed into
a Western country with an economy that could be penetrated from the
outside did not prove to be true. And Russia was mistaken in its
expectations of help in joining the Western club. It was treated like a
conquered power – on the principle "winner takes all." The Americans
took one step after another that were in full agreement with their
national interests but did not always agree with ours. They demanded
that we support them – otherwise we were threatened with a complete
break.

Finally in the Kremlin they decided: that’s enough! Vladimir Putin’s
speech in Munich followed. At our president’s meeting with his American
colleague in Kennebunkport, the following thought was heard: now no one
is pretending any longer – everything is being called by its true name.
If the Americans are going to create a European missile defence system,
Russia will continue to build up its own nuclear triad.

It is possible to step back and meet halfway. But up to a certain
point. In politics this limit is marked by the concept of the "red
line" that must not be crossed: otherwise the existence of the country
comes under threat. That is exactly the kind of threat that the idea of
creating a missile defence system around Russia is. So we intend to
take a firm position.

[Kalyadina] Russia is displaying just as unwavering firmness on the
problem of the status of Kosovo too. Should it [Russia], in a situation
that is fundamental to its very existence, really spend its efforts on
resolving a complex problem in a region where it has clearly
surrendered its position to the United States?

[Nikonov] The problem of Kosovo is creating a new international legal
precedent in a most delicate sphere – a state’s territorial integrity.
Contemporary international law envisions the possibility of separating
off some part of a state’s territory only with the agreement of all the
parties to the conflict. But now a precedent is being created where a
country can be divided without the consent of its subjects. Western
diplomats are trying to prove to Russia that separating Kosovo from
Serbia is not a precedent but an isolated case. All right, they may
persuade Russia. But how will they persuade the Ossetians, Abkhazians,
Armenians in Nagornyy Karabakh, and the people in the Trans-Dniester
Region? After all, their position in no way differs from the position
of the people of Kosovo. And then we have a chain reaction situation.
Suffice it to say that there are more than 30 separatist territories in
the world today. And it is obvious that any such conflict raises the
danger of the use of force.

[Kalyadina] In conditions where the parties take mutually exclusive
positions on an issue of international security, many political
analysts have started talking about a new "cold war."

[Nikonov] There is no "cold war." A "cold war" is a definite concept
that indicates a bipolar confrontation between two world systems that
are waging a battle to destroy the other at every point on the globe.
There is no such bipolarity now. Don’t confuse "cold war" with
problematic relations. After all, the West has always pictured Russia
as a dark authoritarian dictatorship and an imperialist aggressor.
There were only two times in history when the West applauded us: from
February into April 1917, and from August into December 1991 – first
when the Russian empire, and then later the Soviet empire were
disappearing.

Russia does not consider either the United States or the West overall
its enemies. But at the same time, it is positioning itself as an
independent centre of strength in the contemporary world. China and
rising India should undoubtedly be considered independent centres of
strength in the contemporary world. Perhaps Japan and Brazil too. In
this situation we are not a super-power. But we undoubtedly are one of
the great powers from all points of view.

[Kalyadina] What are the objective grounds that Russia has to be
considered an independent centre of strength?

[Nikonov] First, the territorial factor. And what is important here is
not just size. Russia is not only the largest Eurasian power in the
world, but the only Euro-Pacific Ocean power. That is probably its
special geopolitical role. Economically we are no longer an Upper Volta
with missiles, as we were once called. We are the ninth largest economy
in the world. The predictions of both domestic and foreign specialists
are optimistic: by 2020 Russian GDP will be the fifth largest on the
planet, behind only the indicators of China, the United States, India,
and Japan. An energy superpower is not a concept of development but a
fact of life. We are a leading nuclear power, which is an absolute
guarantee of security.

Something else that is extremely important thing and distinguishes
Russia from the other powers is that we have preserved the important
resource of our historical heritage. With all the revolutionary
changes, its historical matrix was reproduced.

[Kalyadina] Although in fact we are both a Eurasian and a Euro-Pacific
Ocean power, our practical place in the world today is determined
mainly by the state of relations with Europe and the United States. How
will the configuration of this triangle change, in your view?

[Nikonov] At this point Russia more likely appears as a passive country
in this triangle. The European Union is occupied with its own internal
problems associated with "digesting" new members and problems of
relations with America. And the United States is making vigorous
efforts to move Europe away from Russia.

[Kalyadina] So if the European Union is absorbed with internal family
problems and is being subjected to American pressure, should Russia
perhaps concentrate on bilateral European routes?

[Nikonov] Russia will cooperate with both the European Union and with
individual countries. Of course, the European Union as a whole has
become a difficult partner today. It is not an easy thing for the 27
states with different levels of economic and political development that
are members of it to reach a consensus. So if a common position is
worked out, it as a rule turns out to be set in concrete. Dealing with
an inflexible partner is very complicated. And our relations with
unified Europe will not be very simple. But the fact is that 53 per
cent of our territory is in Europe.

[Kalyadina] How tangible are the outlines of the Russia-China-India
triangle that people have often been talking about recently?

[Nikonov] In the mid-18th century, China accounted for more than a
third of the world’s GDP, while India accounted for roughly a quarter.
Now everything is moving towards both countries returning to those
positions. China, which a particular well-known political analyst said
is a "civilization pretending to be a state," has every chance of
becoming the most important centre of strength. India is also close to
that.

While we used to put Russia at the head of this triangle, claiming the
role of leader is difficult for it today. We are not in any way a
significant economic partner for either China or India. We are not a
serious factor in the internal politics of these states. But overall
Russia’s relations both with China and with India are at a very high
mark now. So the triangle’s prospects will directly depend on Russia’s
activism.

[Kalyadina] In singling out the independent centres of strength, the
Russian leadership is always emphasizing that they are ready to develop
partnership relations with all countries. But even so what are our
partnership priorities?

[Nikonov] Above all the CIS, or to be more specific – the nucleus of it
– the Eurasian Economic Union and the ODKB [Collective Security Treaty
Organization]. It is important that a common economic space begin to be
created: Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Armenia,
and Uzbekistan.

[Kalyadina] One more triangle can be seen in Russia’s relations with
the post-Soviet states. One angle is Ukraine and Georgia, which are
actively being pulled into the Euro-Atlantic orbit. The second is
Belarus, which is building the Union State with Russia, and so "as a
sign of protest" is being run down by the West. The basis of this
relationship is those same old geopolitical interests. After all,
Belarus is the missing element of the Euro-Atlantic "mosaic" laid out
from the Baltics to the Black Sea.

[Nikonov] Undoubtedly Belarus’ aspirations to join Russia irritate the
West. At the same time, the Belarusian leadership itself has recently
been trying to grow a second – Western – wing of its politics. At this
point I do not see the prerequisites for success here.

[Kalyadina] The West, of course, would like to offer Belarus an
"angle," but on condition that all the institutions of power there are
reshaped based on its models. Doesn’t the recent resolution of the
Parliamentary Assembly of the OSCE [Organization for Security and
Cooperation in Europe], which demanded that the Belarusian government
participate in the international conference on the situation in their
own country, attest to that?

[Nikonov] Undoubtedly that is an attempt to invite Belarus to a
European tribunal in order to have more influence on Belarusian
domestic policies and to support the opposition. Up to this point, the
policy followed by the West (either Belarus changes its government or
it is an outcast) has been a dead end.

[Kalyadina] But using the example of the former Yugoslavia, we know the
risk that declaring a country an "outcast" runs.

[Nikonov] After Ukraine the policy of replacing regimes cannot boast of
any successes. It failed in the previous presidential election in
Belarus too.

[Kalyadina] What steps should Russia take in this situation?

[Nikonov] Above all to proceed from the given that Belarus is its
natural ally. The difference between Russians and Belarusians is
substantially less than between West and East Germans or northern and
southern Japanese. So the Union State can be an absolutely realistic
thing.

[Kalyadina] What must be done to accomplish that?

[Nikonov] Build the institutions of the Union. Serious steps are needed
to smooth out the differences in economic legislation and to develop
mutual investments. Well then too, of course, the question of the
optimal structure of the state that would fully suit both sides must be
resolved. And time and the political will are needed for all that.

From: Emil Lazarian | Ararat NewsPress

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Emil Lazarian

“I should like to see any power of the world destroy this race, this small tribe of unimportant people, whose wars have all been fought and lost, whose structures have crumbled, literature is unread, music is unheard, and prayers are no more answered. Go ahead, destroy Armenia . See if you can do it. Send them into the desert without bread or water. Burn their homes and churches. Then see if they will not laugh, sing and pray again. For when two of them meet anywhere in the world, see if they will not create a New Armenia.” - WS