In the event that the acute phase of the conflict in Ukraine really turns out to be very long, which, apparently, is the case, then the elementary needs of survival will force Russia to get rid of what binds it to Europe, Valdai Club Programme Director Timofei Bordachev.
In the event that the growing conflict in and around Ukraine does not lead to irreparable consequences on a global scale in the near future, its most important result will be a fundamental demarcation between Russia and Europe, which will make it impossible to maintain even insignificant neutral zones and will require a significant reduction in trade and economic ties. Restoring control over the territory of Ukraine, which, most likely, should become a long-term goal of Russian foreign policy, will solve the main problem of regional security — the presence of a “grey zone”, the management of which inevitably becomes the subject of a confrontation that is dangerous from the point of view of escalation. In this sense, we can count on a certain stabilisation in the long term, although it will not be based on cooperation between the main regional powers. However, it is already obvious that the road to peace will be long enough and will be accompanied by extremely dangerous situations.
In his speech to the participants in the Davos forum, Henry Kissinger, the patriarch of international politics, pointed to just such a prospect as the least desirable from his point of view, since Russia then “could alienate itself completely from Europe and seek a permanent alliance elsewhere”, which would lead to the emergence of diplomatic distances on the scale of the Cold War. In his opinion, peace talks between the parties would be the most expedient way to prevent this; these would result in Russian interests being taken into account.
Like his great predecessors, Kissinger appears on the world stage in an era when the balance of power between the most important players is already being determined by “iron and blood.” The time of his greatest achievement was the first half of the 1970s — a period of relative stability. However, one cannot ignore the fact that the ability of states to behave in that way was due not to their wisdom or responsibility to future generations, but to much more mundane factors. The first factor was the completion of the “shrinkage” of the order which obtained its approximate features as a result of the World War II. Over the next 25 years (1945 — 1970), this order was “finalised” during the war in Korea, the US intervention in Vietnam, the USSR’s military actions in Hungary and Czechoslovakia, several indirect wars between the USSR and the US in the Middle East, the completion of the process of disintegration of the European colonial empires, as well as a significant number of smaller, but also dramatic events. So now it would be difficult to expect diplomacy to be able to take first place in world affairs at the initial stage of the process, which promises to be very long and, most likely, quite bloody.
The material basis of that order, which was given its final polish by Kissinger’s diplomacy, the policy of “détente” with the USSR and the 1972 reconciliation with China, was the strategic defeat of Europe as a result of two world wars in the first half of the 20th century. The collapse of the European colonial empires and the historic defeat of Germany in its attempt to take centre stage in world affairs brought the United States to the forefront, which made it possible to make politics truly global. As a result of the self-destruction of the USSR, this order turned out to be short-lived. We see now that this was a great tragedy, since it led to the disappearance of the balance of power in favour of the dominance of only one power.
Now we can assume that the massive emancipation of mankind from Western control is of central importance, the most important factor of which is the growth of China’s economic and political power. If China itself, as well as India and other major states outside the West, cope with the task entrusted to them by history, in the coming decades the international system will acquire features that were completely uncharacteristic before.
Most of the significant events that are taking place now, both globally and regionally, are connected with the objective process of the growth in the importance of China and, following it, other large Asian countries. The determination Russia has shown in recent years, and especially months, is also associated with global changes. The fact that Moscow so purposefully stood up to protect its interests and values was due not only to domestic Russian reasons, although they are of great importance. Nor were they predicated upon expectations of direct material assistance from China, which could compensate for the losses during the acute phase of the conflict with the West.
This is what is understood in the US and Europe with the greatest concern. In the event that Russia, during the years of the emerging disengagement from Europe, creates a comparable system of trade, economic, political, cultural and human ties in the South and East, the return of this country to the Western area will become technically difficult, if ever realisable. So far, such a development of events is hindered by a colossal number of factors, among which in the first place is the inertia of close interaction with Europe and active mutual presence accumulated over the past 300 years. Moreover, it was Europe that was the only constant partner of Russia after the appearance of this power in the arena of international cooperation. However, in the event that the acute phase of the conflict in Ukraine really turns out to be very long, which, apparently, is the case, then the elementary needs of survival will force Russia to get rid of what binds it to Europe. This is exactly what those Russian scholars and public figures are calling for, who in every possible way emphasise the existential nature of the confrontation taking place on our western borders.
Therefore, it is the understanding by the US and its allies that the movement towards a new world order has objective grounds that are the most important source of their struggle with Russia.
The inevitable redistribution of resources and power on a global scale cannot happen in a completely peaceful manner, although the irrationality of an offensive war between the great powers, given the nuclear deterrence factor, provides us with some hope for the preservation of humanity. Amid the struggle now gaining momentum, Russia, like Europe, is, despite its military capabilities, a participant inferior in strength to the main warring parties — China and the United States. Therefore, there is a struggle for Russia, and there is a dwindling opportunity for the West to win, which Henry Kissinger is now trying to say.