Norms and Values
Russia as the Cradle of Revisionism

We, figuratively speaking, are fighting according to other people’s maps; we use the picture of the world created by the West in its own interests. Only its deep revision will allow us to achieve success in clashing with the West and win the sympathy of non-Western countries that are in dire need of an alternative picture of the world, but do not have the necessary intellectual resources to create it, writes Vyacheslav Shuper.

The commentary by Oleg Barabanov “World Order: The Limits to Revisionism” resolutely continues a discussion on an important and difficult issue raised in 2014 by Fyodor Lukyanov — about the imposed, but extremely significant role of Russia as a forced revisionist in the already-formed world order. This order was not only organised without taking into account Russia’s interests, but also with a clearly expressed tendency to constantly increase pressure on Russia from all directions. “This is not peace. It is an armistice for twenty years,” said Marshal Foch (1851-1929), referring not to the predatory terms of the Versailles Treaty, as is often believed, but precisely to its insufficient rigidity. “Henceforward the Rhine ought to be the Western military frontier of the German countries. Henceforward Germany ought to be deprived of all entrance and assembling ground, that is, of all territorial sovereignty on the left bank of the river, that is, of all facilities for invading quickly, as in 1914, Belgium, Luxembourg, for reaching the coast of the North Sea and threatening the United Kingdom, for outflanking the natural defences of France, the Rhine, Meuse, conquering the Northern Provinces and entering the Parisian area”, wrote Ferdinand Foch to Woodrow Wilson (1856-1924) in a memorandum dated January 10, 1919. Like Germany at the time, Russia could not be finished off and dismembered, remain satisfied with the collapse of the USSR, nor be integrated into the newly formed world order on any sufficient terms.

Meanwhile, the role of a revisionist — both in internal affairs and in international relations — was not something historically new for the country. Soviet Russia had been playing it since its establishment. During the post-war period, the emergence of the Non-Aligned Movement was the best evidence of the opportunities that the bipolar architecture of the world opened up to countries and people. Russia played, in many ways without even fully realising, the role of the “midwife” of history. By stopping (and this is the main thing) the sliding of the world into a big war, and limiting the possibilities of using military force in international relations, Russia, which still was not very free internally, has made the world much freer. Countries and peoples have dramatically expanded their opportunities to choose their own political, economic, and cultural path, and to compete economically on equal terms. Perhaps Russia’s new mission lies in ensuring peace and freedom of development in the economic, political, cultural and civilisational spheres. The “new Russian idea? An idea that seems to be sorely lacking in the modern world,” about which Sergei Karaganov wrote. In his opinion, one of the most important functions of Russia in international relations is to be a security provider.

The unfolding special military operation in Ukraine indicates that Russia has been forced to focus on its own security problems, and, as a result, its “export potential” was significantly reduced. We can expect that if the goals of the operation are achieved, a significant reformatting of the world order will take place, and Russia’s role in ensuring the security of friendly and neutral countries will increase even more, but this will require more than one year.

In this difficult and turbulent period, the deepest revisionism will become a condition for the country’s survival, but it can also become its most important contribution to the formation of a new worldview for non-Western countries.

Sergei Karaganov wrote that after decades of living in the shadow of Marxism that came to Russia from outside, we began to move to another dogma, again coming from abroad — a liberal-democratic one — both in economic thought, and in political science, and even to a large extent in the sciences of foreign and defence policy. Moscow drank deeply from this poisoned chalice and lost part of the country in doing so, forsaking what it had to offer in terms of technology. Starting in the mid-2000s, Russia began to pursue an independent policy. However, the authorities acted largely intuitively, rather than relying on clear, nationally-oriented (I repeat, they cannot be different) scientific and ideological postulates. “Until now, we haven’t dared to say to ourselves that the ideological and scientific worldview by which have been guided over the last forty-fifty years, is outdated and/or was originally aimed at serving the elites of other countries”. In his keynote article, Sergei Karaganov formulated a number of important issues to be rethought, emphasising that their list is far from complete. There are still many well-established ideas that must be revised.

Norms and Values
World Order: The Limits to Revisionism
Oleg Barabanov
The current developments are an important practical test for the limits of political revisionism. The Russian case will undoubtedly become a visual aid for other revisionist powers. The further prospects of political revisionism in the “post-February” world order will depend on what conclusions they come to, writes Valdai Club Programme Director Oleg Barabanov.
Expert Opinions

First of all, these are centre-periphery concepts which are based on economic determinism, which is no better than historical, geographical or technological determinism. Having abandoned liberal dogmas, we must also abandon this single scale by which we measure the level of countries’ development. There are many such scales, and countries form the most bizarre constellations in a multidimensional space. We need to muster up the courage to face some uncomfortable truths. “We somehow forget that the very concept of ‘global problems’ can exist only within the framework of the Yalta-Potsdam order, which postulates the equality of peoples and races and the restriction of the sovereign right of states to wage war. In a world order, postulating the inequality of states and the natural essence of expansion, there are no global problems. The transition to such a ‘non-Yalta’ order will also mean the elimination of the very concept of ‘global problems’. A scenario that is unthinkable only if we believe that our world, established as a result of the Second World War, is the norm for all time until the end of the world.” Globalisations are as mortal as people, Alexey Fenenko rightly notes.

Persistently advancing through intellectual decolonisation (a term introduced by Mikhail Remizov), we will inevitably ask ourselves why the reduction of the “carbon footprint” requires efforts and sacrifices from all countries, including poor ones, despite the insufficient evidence of a number of scientific provisions and the dubious effectiveness of the proposed measures, while the COVID-19 pandemic, which claimed many thousands of lives every day, showed not the unity of all mankind, but the most unbridled national egoism, including in relations between the closest allies. Following this difficult path, we will begin to wonder how correct it is to look at the world and at ourselves through the prism of the West, and precisely when it, to put it mildly, is not on the rise. If we are ready to abandon that one-dimensional scale and refuse to consider ourselves a semi-periphery of the former unipolar world, then we do not need, for example, to make films for Western festivals with budgetary funds that depict the country in the way the West wants to see it. There is no need to “concentrate” all domestic science for publications in foreign journals and citation indices, as well as do countless other stupid things that doom us to a subordinate position to our Western geopolitical rivals, turning them into real enemies before our eyes.

In each specific instance, one must think with one’s own head as to whether one should catch up with the West or go his own way. We are terribly afraid of the latter because of natural mediocrity and the inability to set goals independently, which has been lost over 30 years. I’ll remember for the rest of my life how a colleague complained at a meeting that officials from the Ministry of Economic Development demanded that all proposals should be supported by successful experience of their application in the highly developed countries. And the colleague is bright; he certainly can come up with something that has never happened anywhere, especially in the West. Such attitudes towards Russian specialists — in any field — has always been very harmful to the development of the country, but it becomes death-like amid conditions where the whole society is being rapidly reorganised for mobilisation.

In peacetime, one can bet on mediocrity, but it is impossible to win a war against a superior enemy without introducing new talent.

“A lot became clear to us during the [First World] War, and first of all, it became clear to everyone what was previously clear to a few — our economic dependence on Germany, which is completely unacceptable in the presence of proper governance. That this has become clear to Russian society is obviously a fact of the greatest importance, for the consequence of such a consciousness will be an inevitable change in the state of affairs” . In order to change the state of affairs, Vladimir Vernadsky (1863-1945), together with other outstanding domestic scientists, in 1915 created and headed the famous KEPS — the Commission for the Study of Natural Productive Forces, which continued its fruitful work after the revolution, and became the cradle for many important research institutes. Now we clearly do not observe such a powerful patriotic upsurge among scientists (comparisons with the Great Patriotic War would be even sadder) and the reason for this is the loss of a critical approach, the desire for independent goal-setting, and narrow specialisation within the Western-centric model of science organising. But our current method is crumbling before our eyes with the perverted value orientation and with the decline of critical thinking, a sure symptom of which is the extinction of seminary life.

It must be fairly noted that the country is actually returning to the thinking of 36 years ago, to the “new political thinking” of Mikhail Gorbachev, since it has become disillusioned with the path travelled during this time. Fyodor Lukyanov expects that “the stormy intellectual discussion of perestroika times about the path to the future, which was not then brought to the end due to the collapse of the USSR, seems to get a chance to resume and be crowned with a certain conclusion.” The resumption of this discussion is not just urgent, but extremely urgent. Historical events are developing with dizzying speed, and we are lagging behind in our awareness of them, more and more. But could the USSR have won the most difficult war if its political leadership did not have, on the whole, correct ideas about the objective processes that determine the picture of the world? We, figuratively speaking, are fighting according to other people’s maps; we use the picture of the world created by the West in its own interests. Only its deep revision will allow us to achieve success in clashing with the West and win the sympathy of non-Western countries that are in dire need of an alternative picture of the world, but do not have the necessary intellectual resources to create it.

Views expressed are of individual Members and Contributors, rather than the Club's, unless explicitly stated otherwise.