World Mechanics

We live in a complicated, tangled and staggeringly interdependent world that is undergoing tectonic shifts. This is what the president of Russia spoke about at his annual news conference, where he devoted considerable attention to the international situation. 

Back when scientists around the world grew confident that the Earth rotates around the Sun and there are countless stars in space, there emerged the concept of celestial mechanics, or the study of the movement of celestial bodies. Given the dramatic increase in the complexity and unpredictability in the world, it is time to talk about a new international mechanics, a new system of understanding international processes, so that reasonable and reliable forecasts can be made. 

President Putin laid out just such a broad, comprehensive view of world affairs at his news conference on December 20. That Vladimir Putin focused on the threat of a nuclear war when discussing international affairs is telling. He hopes that the human race will have enough common sense not to risk its welfare and existence, thereby ensuring the key prerequisite of stable development – global peace. People have lived in conditions of global peace for over 70 years. I would like to note that they live quite well despite numerous local conflicts. On the whole, people did not live so well before. Unfortunately, this only underscores the threats to this hard-earned prosperity. 

As the word turns 

The news conference format is not suitable for a systematic description of political theories. However, Vladimir Putin’s answers clearly revealed the general logic in his approach to key international issues. Russia is the reference point in international affairs, that is, Russia in the international context. No matter what the issue – peace treaty with Japan, relations with Ukraine, the Skripal case, the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, who was a guest of the Valdai meeting on the Middle East in 2017, or Russia-China cooperation – the president always emphasized the importance of the interests of the Russian people, which as he said “we are defending carefully, without any rudeness.” At the same time these interests are placed in an international context, from common security to the world economy. Moreover, Russia will find it difficult to develop if global problems go unresolved. 

It was abundantly clear in the majority of his answers that only agreements, both bilateral and multilateral, can serve as the foundation for sustainable development. The same applies to following the rules adopted in the world. These rules do not emerge by themselves. They are based on agreements. Consistently following these rules without exception is absolutely necessary. Comparing the cases of Skripal (who is alive) and Khashoggi (who is dead), Vladimir Putin noted the inadequacy of the response to them and prejudiced attitude. 

He voiced the same idea when asked about Syria and the announced withdrawal of US troops. The president said it is time to make political decisions, that is to reach agreements, and moreover, there are grounds to hope for some progress on this front. 

Responding to a question about relations with Britain and whether Russia wants to improve them, Vladimir Putin confidently answered in the affirmative and emphasized that Britain is a leading investor in the Russian economy. 

The issue of the global economy and economic relations as a major element of the structure of the world, a driver of development and the improvement of the general political situation, was stated quite clearly. In fact, the president emphasized this in the very beginning of his news conference. He started by setting the goal of economic development and changing the quality of the Russian economy to match the level of global development. Without this Russia will not be able to be successful. 

In some sense, the president described a certain sequence of actions in the international arena. It should be based on the interests of the homeland, its sovereignty, on the one hand, and an understanding of the growing interdependence of countries and other world entities, on the other. Rules and agreements allowing countries to successfully develop and cooperate should be adopted on this basis. These rules and agreements must have both an internal and foreign policy aspect, and preferably a democratic foundation. Incidentally, this approach was revealed in the answer to the question about Afghanistan and the talks with the Taliban*: it is impossible to live in the modern world without compromises although the role of military force should not be underrated. 

Even more indicative was the answer to the question about Russia’s aspiration for world domination and the goals of its foreign policy. Vladimir Putin emphasized that Russia wants to be an equal among equals and live in a world governed by rules and law, and for international institutions based on agreements to follow these rules. The same idea was voiced as regards Russia-US relations. 

Vladimir Putin spoke about a great many, if not all major international issues. It seemed to me that his general view of the world system, some elements of which I described earlier as world mechanics, were more interesting than even the details, important as they are. 

The severity of the problems raised at the news conference differed, of course, as did their importance on the international scene. But in the modern world, big and small problems are intertwined in a most peculiar way, creating a new level of complexity and interdependence. Brexit and the situation in Syria, the peace treaty with Japan and relations with China, Russia-US disagreements and developments in Afghanistan – all questions that were raised at the news conference impact each other in a strange and peculiar way. This is why only a universal approach can work in this respect. All problems should be resolved by a common method applied to specific situations and circumstances. 

*Banned in the Russian Federation. 

This article first appeared in the Izvestia newspaper.