Asia and Eurasia
Continuing Diplomacy by Other Means

The main cause of the European crisis is the selfish behaviour of the Western countries, which forced Russia to switch to a revolutionary method of solving the problem of its security in the western direction, writes Valdai Club Programme Director Timofei Bordachev.

 A year ago, a series of negotiations between Russia and the West on the international order in Europe, based on Moscow’s December 2021 proposals for mutual security guarantees, ended without any results. Despite the fact that these proposals formally dealt only with the military and political sphere, their hypothetical consequence could be the creation of a new international order. However, the Russian proposals did not prompt any readiness for serious discussion on the part of the United States and its allies, and a month later, the solution of the most important issues moved, according to the definition of one high-ranking Russian diplomat, to the military-technical sphere.

By early 2023, the parties were already able to do enough to ensure that their conflict acquired a large-scale character and, thus, consolidated a new split in Europe, the boundaries of which are still indefinite. At the same time, the United States quite consistently reproduces the logic and mechanisms of confrontation characteristic of the late stage of the Cold War of 1949-1990, when virtually any form or scale of confrontation at the local level was accompanied by measures to prevent escalation directly between the great powers themselves.
However, we still have to find out to what extent Russia is ready to act in accordance with this logic, taking into account the fact that a local theatre is located in close proximity to its national territory.

In other words, the failure of negotiations over a hypothetical new European order led the parties to move in the direction of its organisation, following the most historically accepted mode of interaction between powers whose interests are in conflict. This development came as an unpleasant surprise to those intellectuals, including this author, who thought that a combination of recent factors makes more likely what Edward Carr called “political change” in the international order. In his fundamental work, The Twenty Years’ Crisis: 1919–1939, he wrote that “political change” in the international order is possible when its main institutions are joined by powers whose power capabilities are large enough to pose a danger in the event of their revolutionary behaviour.

Such a solution seemed, according to the classic, a relatively reliable way to prevent the new international order, which was supposed to emerge after the destruction of the Versailles-Washington system, from leading to new world wars. At the same time, as the cause of the conflict, Carr singles out not so much internal factors, as a result of which the state pursues a revolutionary foreign policy, but systemic ones, i.e. due to the specific features of the distribution of forces and power at a particular historical stage. Ultimately, his basic idea is that states must show enough maturity and moderation to abandon a completely selfish view of the world. At the same time, Carr argued that international governance would in any case remain in the hands of a limited group of powers. However, he saw the maximum consideration of the real balance of power in the formation of this group as the main guarantee of the likely preservation of peace for a longer period.
Modern Diplomacy
Why We Are Missing the Cold War
Andrey Sushentsov
When the acute phase of the Ukrainian crisis will pass, the parties will return to negotiations, and Russian-American consultations will again be the centre of decision-making on the future of European security. At the same time, it is obvious that the Americans’ interest now is to make the Ukrainian crisis last as long as possible, so that Russia comes out of it weaker: this will create a different negotiating reality, writes Valdai Club Programme Director Andrey Sushentsov.

The recognition that a stable international order should at least formally reflect the existing distribution of power was the result of a rather serious and dramatic experience gained during the crisis of a system built on the dominance of Western European countries in global politics and economics. For Carr, the causes of the crisis are obvious and simple enough: exclusion of a group of four major powers — Germany, Italy, Japan and Soviet Russia — from what we would now call “global governance”. The monopolisation by the three victorious powers (Britain, the USA and France) that arose after the First World War of all possibilities for influencing the status quo made the emerging world order immanently unjust, and ruled out the possibility of changing it peacefully. The result was the World War II, and now the state of affairs is different in content, but extremely close to that of the first half of the last century in nature.

We have no reason to doubt that even now, the author of the concept of “political change” would not question the main cause of the European crisis — the selfish behaviour of the Western countries, which forced Russia to switch to a revolutionary method of solving the problem of its security in the western direction. However, this does not change the situation much — the development of events we observe shows that one cannot count on wisdom in matters of international politics. Moreover, we now see how conflicting the behaviour of the United States and allies is becoming in relation to the growing ambitions of China.
Diplomatic pressure on Beijing and the creation of military infrastructure in Asia look like military preparations much more than the creation of more privileged positions for a later “political” resolution of accumulated fundamental contradictions.

However, as far as relations between Russia and the West are concerned, the shift of the discussion to the military-technical sphere is still very limited in scope and does not fully correspond to the tragedy that is characteristic of public perception or media statements. Of course, we cannot say with certainty that a sudden and dramatic escalation between Russia and the United States is impossible. Moreover, there are a number of factors that could contribute to it — this is, first of all, the uncertain position of certain formal US allies: Poland and the Baltic States. It cannot be ruled out that the more active involvement of these states in the conflict with Russia may lead to threats to their territory, about which the US will have to make a very serious choice.

Now all parties to the conflict have demonstrated the ability to keep it within a fairly limited framework, but history shows examples when the factor of chance leads to very dramatic consequences. Also, we do not know exactly what the US will do if Russia considers it necessary at some stage to increase military pressure on the Kiev authorities in order to hasten the end of the hot form of conflict. So far, there are no signs that such an option is being considered, but here again we are dealing with a high degree of uncertainty. As a matter of fact, this interesting stage of international politics, which is now being experienced by all participants, does indeed contain a colossal element of uncertainty, and this is not surprising — neither Russia nor the West has gone through anything like this before. No attempt by the United States to reproduce to the maximum extent the experience of the past Cold War can serve here as a sufficiently reliable guarantee that the result will not turn out to be completely different.

However, if a general catastrophe can be avoided, the military phase of interaction between Russia and the West over the European international order can be seen as a continuation of diplomacy by other means. How long it will continue depends on the ability of the parties to be convincing in demonstrating their military capabilities, as well as resilient amid the inevitable economic challenges associated with the conflict. So far, Russia, like the West, has demonstrated a high degree of internal stability and the ability to continue the struggle. This makes it difficult to predict when the parties will feel the need to return to the negotiating table. However, one should not succumb to emotions and exclude the possibility that the Russian proposals of a year ago may still become a subject of discussion. This is quite likely after the conditions are created, which, in fact, is the task of the military-technical phase of relations.
Economic Statecraft
Ukraine: Three Scenarios After the Answer From Washington
Ivan Timofeev
The main task for Russia is to avoid excessive overexertion and, at the same time, not get bogged down in a costly confrontation, maintaining and using levers of pressure on the West where its own interests require it, Valdai Club Programme Director Ivan Timofeev writes.
Views expressed are of individual Members and Contributors, rather than the Club's, unless explicitly stated otherwise.