Staunton, September 4 – On the same day that President Barack Obama used the most “forceful language against Russia” of any US leader since Ronald Reagan and made “the ultimate commitment” to defend NATO allies in Eastern Europe, Sergey Karaganov said that the confrontation between Russia and the West will go on for a very long time.
And this confrontation has the potential to be even more dangerous than its predecessor because as Rashit Akhmetov of “Zvezda Povolzhya” wrote also yesterday, Vladimir Putin has so alienated Europe and the United States that he has nothing to lose by moving against Russia’s neighbors in general and Kazakhstan in particular.
Obama’s speech in Tallinn was described in this way by David Frum of “The Atlantic” (theatlantic.com/international/archive/2014/09/obama-commitment-eastern-europe-russia-nato/379581/). Karaganov presented his argument in “Izvestiya” (zvestia.ru/news/576165). And Akhmetov’s comment came in “Zvezda Povolzhya,” No. 32 (712), September 4-10, 2014, p.1).
Karaganov’s analysis is especially important and disturbing given his standing as a Russian analyst of east-west relations. In his article yesterday, the dean of the faculty of world economics and world politics at Moscow’s Higher School of Economics presented a very bleak picture of the future.
Russian-American relations, he argues, have entered “a long period of confrontation,” one in which “an analysis of the present-day interests of the elites” points to a worsening of relations. But even as that trend seems certain to continue, “it is important that this confrontation no grow into a direct military clash.”
Having won the Cold War, “the American ruling elite has attempted to build on that victory and even to expand ‘the American world’ with the help of other forces, including military ones,” Karaganov says. But in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere, the US and its allies have “suffered political defeats, and that has produced a split in American thinking.
Some like Obama himself at least initially took the view that the US must rid itself of “excessive foreign obligations and focus on internal rebirth.” But others whom Karaganov describes as “conservative and messianic forces” oppose that. “And it is extremely probable that in place of Obama will come a really revanchist command.”
According to Karaganov, “the United States de facto has shifted to a policy of destabilizing key regions of the world,” undermining what remains of international law by “aggression and the mass destruction of people by drones.” This represents “an essential if not cardinal change in its foreign policy course.”
The Moscow analyst argues that this shift in approach from promoting American interests via economic and political means to doing so by generating instability has been “clearly manifested in the provoking of the crisis around Ukraine.”
The Russian leadership not only has inherited anti-Americanism from the Soviet period but has had it intensified by what it sees as the unjust behavior of the West since then and especially by the way in which its efforts to build a new relationship with the United States have been rebuffed.
Now, Karaganov says, Vladimir Putin and the Moscow elite have no interest in trying any more.
A major “mistake” on both sides was the so-called “reset” policy, he continues. That policy focused on issues that were no longer central such as the reduction of strategic arms and “ignored really important issues such as the destabilization of the Middle East and what is most important, of the post-Soviet space and global problems.”
As a result of these experiences, “the chances now for a way out of confrontation are not great,” although given that neither Putin nor Obama have to worry about re-election, albeit for different reasons, either or both could make a dramatic move. But much more likely, Karaganov says, is “an escalation” of tensions.
Moscow for its part is “not interested in a way out of the confrontation” because the notion of a foreign threat helps to build support for the Kremlin. Moreover, the confrontation gives Russia the chance to build alternative international economic and political arrangements and thus to undermine the West.
“If Russia can hold out,” Karaganov argues, “then five to ten years from now” the existing institutions of American influence “will weaken,” and Moscow will be the winner.
Moreover, “for Moscow the stakes are still higher. To lose in this confrontation would be to suffer a real defeat for decades.” The possibility of Russia’s recovery of its status as a world power would be lost and “what is perhaps the main thing for present-day Moscow, the legitimacy and support of the ruling regime would weaken.”
But Karganov says, “the American elite doesn’t want to retreat in Ukraine,” even though it knows that even a victory will entail serious costs. “The game,” he says, “is being carried out for the achievement of negative goals: not allowing Ukraine to fall under the influence of Russia, the division of Europe … and the weakening of Russia itself … and [the removal of] Putin.”
To achieve its goals, the US has revived policies from the Reagan playbook, the Moscow analyst continues.
At the moment, Russia has won more than it has lost as part of its effort to end the dominance of the West and to promote a world order less profitable to the West. “But having won the first round,” Russia may lose subsequent ones because the US has shifted the sphere of struggle into areas “where it is stronger – economic pressure and information competition.”
And thus after its initial successes in Crimea and eastern Ukraine, “Russia is paying with a worsening of the economic climate and of its image in the West,” things which the Kremlin isn’t so disturbed about and which it is using as the occasion to reorient itself away from Europe and toward China and Iran.
Although Karaganov says that one cannot exclude truly terrible variants, there are ways out of the current crisis. “Within Russia, this involves the mobilization of society for shock economic reforms” and the development of the eastern portions of the country. And internationally it would involve an effort to find a new and “long-term” agreement with Europe.
The latter would involve a fixing by treaty of “a new status quo in Europe,” with the territory “which is now Ukraine either de facto divided or becoming a zone of joint development.” That is possible because “Russia needs a peaceful order in the West,” and “the Europeans need peace in the East of Europe.” Otherwise both will be marginalized.
Such an accord, Karaganov says, would require “the eternal neutrality of Ukraine,” autonomy for its eastern portions, an agreement between Russia and Germany on the economic development of Ukraine, and an end to “sanctions and counter-sanctions.” But as of today, such a resolution is “far off.”
“But the alternative, war in the center of Europe with a growing threat of catastrophe,” is so terrible that it is to be hoped, the Moscow analyst says that “diplomacy will be given a chance,” although what he proposes looks very much like a Western capitulation to almost all of Moscow’s demands.
At the same time, Karaganov argues, Moscow must “not put all its eggs in the European basket.” Instead, it must focus on China, Central Asia and Iran, although he suggests that this shift “will not be easy for Russia’s Euro-centric elite.” But that elite has little choice: “integration with the West has still not succeeded.”
However, he concludes, turning away from Europe and from its European roots will be dangerous for Russian identity and the development of Russia,” even if the current situation requires it. And he expresses the hope that in four to eight years, the current crisis will cool and new relations between Russia and the West will be possible.
In the meantime, Russia and the West have entered a most dangerous period.