In the current international crisis has created a similar situation: the United States is again acting more flexibly towards Russia than the Europeans. Washington, on the one hand, is trying to offer its own scenario, which is unacceptable for Russia; on the other hand, the American elites have neither an exaggerated emotional reaction, nor a Manichaean black-and-white picture of the world, as is now observed in Europe, writes Valdai Club Programme Director Andrey Sushentsov.
History continues – the international arena today, as before, is being reshaped in the course of a struggle between strong states. It is history that in most cases serves as a standard textbook for the elites of the largest states, which in their practice reproduce the historical patterns of behaviour of their countries, which the elites absorb through family education, history books, major milestones of national memory, and religion.
Each new generation of political elites answers the question: “What is my own place in the history of the country, and what is our country’s place in world history?” For example, the Turkish elites came to the thesis that a new Turkish century is beginning, to which Recep Tayyip Erdoğan led their country for quite a long time – being a strong and largely paradoxical figure, he nevertheless became the father of Turkish re-industrialisation. All the successes of Turkish industry are taking place against the backdrop of major problems with financial policy, but it is clear that there is a significant basis for the growing influence of Turkey in the present century.
The current realities demonstrate that words and deeds must be paid for, although not all countries understand this. What is the specific nature of the complex, interesting, but stable relationship between Russia and Turkey? Due to the fact that Turkey itself is forced to ensure its own security and is not able to rely on the United States or anyone else, it is well aware of the value of words and deeds, which instils in it realism in assessments. This gives Ankara a fairly balanced line in addressing the Ukrainian crisis, despite the fact that the Turks can be extremely difficult partners. They supply weapons to Ukraine, like Finland, but for us they provide significant economic opportunities and strategically offer themselves as a negotiating platform.
On the contrary, Germany is dissolving its identity in the larger European community: the Germans find it difficult to formulate their national interest, separated from that of Poland or the Baltic countries. The reunification of Germany was, indeed, effectively the “end of history” for German foreign policy. Germany is neither able nor willing to think for itself about security needs in view of the American nuclear umbrella and military guarantees. To describe this impasse, we use the term “strategic thinking vacation”: the Germans stopped educating rational military and diplomatic elites who have something to say in a discussion with the Poles, who have a wide historical panorama, a lot of emotions and a value-based understanding of international politics. In the discussion on any European strategic document, the Germans propose to look at the threats facing the EU in many dimensions, taking into account migration and terrorism, while the Poles say that the main threat is Russia. In a situation where one thesis in streamlined formulations has been promoted for 20 years, the most energetic ones inevitably win.
Emotionality is generally characteristic of the European foreign policy mentality. In 2015, US President Barack Obama threatened to overthrow Bashar al-Assad’s government if the Syrian government used chemical weapons. Following suit, many European states, including the Baltic countries, Poland, and the Scandinavian countries, supported the American initiative and were ready to join in the bombing of Damascus. Later it turned out to bea provocation on the part of the opposition, and if those European states that declared their readiness to use force had maintained this position, despite Washington's refusal to strike, then their true agency would have been clear.
The example of Hungary is paradoxical. The Hungarian elites are well aware of the concept of “sovereignty”: if you lose your agency and delegate the formulation of your interests to another party, then you will disappear. The elites in Budapest understand that the only way to survive within the institutions of the European Union is not to give up their currency and to defend their national interests as firmly as possible within the cosmopolitan community.
In the meantime, the current international crisis has created a similar situation: the United States is again acting more flexibly towards Russia than the Europeans. Washington, on the one hand, is trying to offer its own scenario, which is unacceptable for Russia; on the other hand, the American elites have neither an exaggerated emotional reaction, nor a Manichaean black-and-white picture of the world, as is now observed in Europe.
Importantly, the trends that Russians called pivotalin international processesa few years ago – the formation of polycentricity, the reduction of the US share in the international financial system, the emancipation of other countries – were considered to be an ideological bubble in the United States. Now, however, prominent American analysts themselves are beginning to come to the same conclusion. Therefore, the resource of influence of the “leader”, which today is still able to provide a significant amount of its military arsenal to a neighbouring state with hostile goals against such a large neighbour as Russia, runs the risk of being exhausted in the future.