Title of publication: Mir vokrug Rossii: 2017. Kontury nedalekogo budushchego (origin.: Мир вокруг России: 2017. Контуры недалекого будущего).
Editor: Karaganov, Sergey A.
Publisher: Kulturnaya revoliutsiya
Year of publishing: 2007
Number of pages: 159
Current world is developing rather quickly, so quickly that people are often unable to analyze events, current international situation, substance of conflicts and wars, of new geopolitical alliances and of geostrategic placement of forces. Although media draw nearer distant events and create a possibility to gain up-to-date information about various events, they do not offer a complete picture of political processes. The world of the politics presented by the media gives a fragmentary and chaotic impression, events replace events and after certain time they are forgotten under the pressure of new information. People are unable to catch the meaning of current political events, they cannot grasp logical connections of geopolitical processes in a seemingly global world, which became a „big village” a long time ago. In other words, the smaller the world becomes, the less do people understand it.
For most of the people, politics and geopolitics remains a mystery difficult to understand. Even more it seems impossible for simple people to look into near political future of human civilization as well as of individual states.
It is often said that prognosticating is an ungrateful matter, because prognoses rarely come true, but it is even worse when they do. Present mankind reached a considerable level of political and economical development, and a lot of people consider this fact unchangeable and stable. At the same time geopolitical division seems to be final and impossible to change.
Despite that, the history proves the opposite. And in present world the changes happen so quickly that almost none of us really realize that the consequences show on a global level and affect all states and nations.
A group of Russian analytics in the book „The World Surrounding Russia: 2017. Outlines of Near Future”, published on the grounds of the Council for Foreign and Defense Policy of the RF under the leadership of S. A. Karaganov, presents extensive scenario of geopolitical, economical, social and ecological processes for the period of the next decade, i.e. 2007 – 2017 (1).
Right from the beginning we have to mention that the book was written under the influence of the Russian spirit, which is reflected in its apocalyptic tone and pessimistic approach to political processes in Russia as well as in the whole world. From the point of view of the authors, present world is in a deep, total crisis which deepens more and more every year. Eventually, the crisis can have fatal consequences for the future. The changes can be caused most likely by:
An ecological catastrophe;
Terrorist groupings using weapons of mass destruction;
Local wars, which can destroy big nations.
From American Unilateralism to Global Chaos
According to the opinions of the authors, the situation resulted from the foreign policy of the USA as well as of the whole liberal world; leading into a deadlock and it changed other states and nations into objects of its own ambition and egoistic interests. The policy will bring a massive catastrophe for the civilization of liberal democracy in the near future. Therefore the future of a number of states depends on whether the Western civilization – and primarily the USA – re-evaluates their approach to political development of individual world regions.
According to the authors, the cause of the critical state of global political situation lies in an incorrect philosophical and methodological approach of Western politicians to the direction of the world’s development. One of the main philosophical ideas of neoliberalism formed in mid-90s was a concept of global victory of liberalism and democracy in the world. It was followed by an opinion that neither political, nor ideological alternative of democratic liberalism could exist any more, and based on this, in fact a proposition about „the end of the history” emerged. Western politicians considered democracy and liberalism a superior value a priori given for all states and societies. Western liberal states reacted aggressively to non-acceptance of this value, which lead to deep conflicts and clashes of civilizations. Forcible propagation of liberal democracy led not only to conflicts, but also to destabilization of political systems with a different political culture, when democratic changes took place suddenly. According to the authors, new conflicts and resistance against „democratization” show that „the end of the history” has not come about, while the „victory” of American liberalism led to deepening of civilization conflicts and cultural disintegration of states.
Examples of the defeat of USA, as well as of the ideas of liberal democracy, are the unsuccessful war in Iraq, intensive development of such openly non-democratic states as China or Iran, or a new political election of Russia. „The U.S. policy of propagating democracy in rather widely understood Near East is in fact degenerating into a serious and long-term destabilization of states, with a perspective to establish either radical islamist regimes, or lasting chaos. Neither the first scenario, nor the second one is in accordance with political or economical interests of the USA. Analogical effect can have the U.S. policy in Central Asia and in Transcaucasus, in the regions neighboring Russia” (p. 103).
In relation to ineffectiveness of the U.S. foreign policy, the authors believe that the world will soon cease to be uni-polar, which will mean weakening of political influence of the USA and the end of „the end of the history”.
However, this geopolitical „multipolarization” will lead to chaotization and fragmentarization of geopolitical configuration of the world and to increasing threat of „international terrorism”. At this point the authors do not conceal their pessimism. „The U.S. influence will be decreasing, but instead of a uni-polar world arousing concerns and with a single dominating superpower, we will face a different reality. It will not be a „multi-polarity”, but an increasing chaotization and rise of a vacuum in the field of administration and security” (p. 6).
The processes shall – in the authors` opinion – lead to following consequences:
Loss of global initiative and international authority of the USA in a few following years. The U.S. attempts to revive their positions in the future will turn out with no success. „Until the end of the analyzed period of time (2017 – author’s note) the USA will start a partial revival of their international position, but they will no longer be able to apply for the position of „the only superpower” (p. 7). The main reason of decreasing geopolitical activity of the USA will be the syndrome of „imperial exhaustion”, when the state and the public will not feel any inner psychological need to spread their influence and to carry out their political „mission”. This is topical the more because the American society has never been imperial and it supports foreign policy of their administration rather feebly. The idea of fighting against „evil of the world” is not topical for American citizens.
Incorrect foreign policy of the USA and forcible asserting of liberalism in the future will increase distrust of a number of societies towards democratic values and it will lead to their gradual return to traditional values of public and political life. This refers especially to Asian states. At the same time, the general aggressive attitude towards the West and the values asserted by the West will increase in these states, which will strengthen non-democratic regimes in the continent.
Decrease of geopolitical activity of the USA will – even in a short-term perspective – create positive conditions to establish new geopolitical players, especially on a regional level. Their political activity in the past was limited by the rule of the USA. The most outstanding candidates for the role of regional leaders are currently India, China and Iran.
At the same time, the authors believe that no active geopolitical leader will appear in the European continent in the nearest future. The European Union (EU) cannot become the geopolitical successor of the USA because of its strategic weakness and its absence of united geopolitical strategy.
Fragmentation of geopolitical placement of the forces, emergence of regional players – leaders will increase a risk of regional conflicts emerging especially in Asia and in the Near East. The world’s conflicting atmosphere and further escalation of local conflicts is conditioned by following:
By existence of unstable crisis regions, where military actions take place already at present (Iraq, Palestine, Afghanistan);
By the outbreak of the conflicts which at present are invisible and whose open outbreak is prevented by the U.S. military presence (escalation of the conflict between Pakistan and India, intensification of China’s demands on Tai-wan, etc.);
By inability of international organizations to inhibit and regulate international conflicts („It is already apparent that in fact all mechanisms of supporting international security established after the World War II and during the Cold War – just as the UN, NATO, OSCE, etc. – are insufficient to challenges and risks of this century. Attempts to reform the structures mentioned above have not been successful so far,” p. 25).
Although the authors do not state it, the geopolitical fragmentation and resignation of the USA from the idea of democratization of the world will lead to strengthening authoritarian regimes in some states including the countries of the former USSR, as well as to processes of de-democratization in the states where the changes were supported by the USA. This refers e.g. to Georgia, where non-democratic tendencies come up already at present.
Activities of Russia in the Post-Soviet Region
Decrease of the U.S. geopolitical influence will lead to an increase of geopolitical activity of Russia. Although the authors do not say that Russia can become a geopolitical alternative to the USA, yet weakening of the U.S. presence in the world can result in Russia making an attempt to spread its influence in some regions including the states of the former USSR.
The main task and effort of Russia in next years (especially if the position of the USA really weakens) will be an attempt to break the geopolitical chain of enemy states formed by the states of the former USSR and to prevent NATO from expanding eastwards. Especially because preserving the chain will increase strategic risks for Russia. Therefore conflicts in Caucasus, in Central Asia and on western Russian border will most probably sharpen. „Among military and political risks for the Russian Federation, it is necessary to pay attention to possible military conflicts near the state borders and to the threat of Russia being drawn into the conflicts, to creating a hostile military and political environment, to further enlargement of the NATO eastwards (Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova). Particularly dangerous is enlargement of the NATO by Ukraine, which will result in a number of smaller crises including the ones provoked by local inhabitants (!), which will return Ukraine back to the past for a long time and it will create serious problems for Russia and Europe as a whole” (p. 36).
Despite that, to prevent Ukraine from joining the NATO will be possible only by drawing Ukraine to the sphere of their own geopolitical influence. These attempts will most likely lead to destabilization of Ukrainian political system, while Russia will hardly reconcile with the loss of Ukraine. Unstable Ukraine is more profitable for Russia, because it prevents the country from joining the EU and NATO, thus Russia will be further interested in supporting political conflict in the society and in economic unstableness.
Thus geopolitical and foreign policy development in Russia will not be based on the processes of inner consolidation and on creating an attractive political and economic model of development, but on weakness, or weakening of other geopolitical centers, such as the USA or EU. If a geopolitical vacuum is formed, Russia will start to fill it. However, it will be unable to prevent initiatives of other geopolitical centers, and if a similar geopolitical initiative begins to be shown from the side of Russia, it will be of a short-term character and inefficient for Russia as well as for the states concerned. This is true the more because, as the authors state themselves, Russia has neither ideological, nor political and economic sources to become a real center that would attract other states such as the EU, for instance. „Russia has not yet developed an attractive ideological, political and economic model that would be able to compete with the Western model and to face the European part of the post-soviet region heading to ‘political borders of the EU'” (p. 132).
In connection to this a different form will be carried out, and these will be the geopolitical initiatives that have been developing throughout last decade. This relates in the first place to the Union of Belarus and Russia. Moreover, analysts currently perceive relations to Belarus as problematic: „Belarusian problem becomes strategic for Russia. Low predictability of Minsk does not allow Belarus to become a strategic platform for a breakthrough into Central Europe. Belarus, controlled by Alexander Lukashenko, who is heading towards the policy of balancing between the EU and Russia, will also further wend its way in a manner of preserving its political system and administrative economic model. Unless Russia develops a well-thought strategy towards Minsk, the Ukrainian scenario will repeat in Belarus in next three to six years” (p. 133).
The motivation of Belarusian-Russian relations and their perspective development in the future deserves more attention. We have to mention that already nowadays these relations are not being perceived in the context of ideological unity of two brotherly nations. Economic platform and geopolitical stronghold are the most important motivations of current Muscovite policy. Belarus is a window to Europe and Russia will not allow it to close. Their approach to Belarus has become more mercantile, more utilitarian, and it has lost the layers of all-Slavonic romanticism. Russia does not demand Slavonic unity of brotherly nations, which they were seemingly following throughout the years. Its aims are clearer and more apparent and they focus on their own economic and political profit. Belarus is perceived as a territory which has temporarily separated from Russia and integration is transforming into a legitimate way of attaching the territory to Russia.
A change of geopolitical rhetoric and approach to integrative processes can mean that Russia will exert even stronger influence on Minsk in a short time. „If Moscow agrees to accept a number political and economic measures in relation to Minsk, Belarus can become Russia’s loyal transit corridor, a stronghold of their economic expansion to Poland and the Baltic states, a paragon of energy integration in post-soviet region” (p. 130). Such words manifest that future strategy has already been based on imperial approach, and that Russia will only hardly give it up.
This results in following conclusions:
Russia does not wish for geopolitical severance of Belarus and perceives it as immediate threat to their geopolitical and geo-economic security.
Russia will try to keep Belarus in the sphere of their influence by all possible means and to transform the country into a political and economic platform for extending their influence to the West.
Realization of the intentions to establish control over Belarusian territory is impossible without a change of the political regime in Minsk. We can expect that Moscow will take steps to carry out political changes in Belarus and to establish a loyal pro-Muscovite regime. The effort to change the political leadership can be realized in accordance with the logic of the prognosis e.g. in 2011 during presidential election in Belarus: „Moscow will be able to go back to Russian-Belarusian integration project after finishing the construction of the „Northern Stream” pipeline (2010) and after changing the government in Minsk” (p. 128 – 129). (2)
Belarus has already become an indicator of Russia’s strength and weakness. A loss of any possibilities to influence development of Belarus will shift Russia completely to the periphery of the geopolitical game. The next decade will be a geopolitical trial for Belarus as well as for Russia. For Belarus, the topical question will be preserving its own political sovereignty and Russia will deal with the issue of reviving its status as a superpower and preserving their „European character”.
At the same time, the mentioned processes will come about also in Russian-Ukrainian relations. Although the authors of the prognosis believe that relations with Ukraine will remain changeless and according to their opinion there is no point in expecting political rapprochement, yet preserving the Russian influence over the country remains one of the strategic priorities. „There is no reason to expect that Ukraine will become a strategic ally of Russia in the foreseeable future. Kiev is doomed to participate in two projects simultaneously – in the Russian as well as in the anti-Russian one. In relation to Ukraine, Russia will have to follow more the format of standard international relations” (p. 133).
As a consequence of the fact that there will always be a more attractive economic and political alternative in the European vector, e.g. the EU, Russia cannot reach integration of the former post-soviet states into its geopolitical sphere effectively and in a short time. Possible alternatives for extension of Russian influence might be energy pressure, change of political regimes in the states or their own interest to open themselves to the Russian influence. However, the last option is the least probable one.
According to analytics, there are more possibilities for Russia arising in Central Asia, where the most likely alternative is establishment of economic union between Russia and Kazakhstan, and it is possible that Kyrgyzstan will be included in the process as well.
Asiatization of Russia
The receding of Ukraine, Belarus and Moldova from Russia will lead to a change of its orientation on Asia, thus Russia will in fact become an Asian state without a direct contact with Europe. The only thing connecting them will be natural gas pipelines. At the same time, weak geopolitical positions of the EU in the East European region and absence of an actual strategic concept condemn the states (Belarus, Moldova and Ukraine) to geopolitical and intrapolitical turbulences, which will deprive them of political and economic stability essential for definite establishing of their geopolitical position.
It is most likely that a new geopolitical structure of the region will be formed in the nearest future. It will be related to the fact that on the one hand, the EU will not be interested to strengthen its presence in the East European countries from various reasons, but on the other hand, political elites of the states of East European region unequivocally refuse Russian political presence and influence. As a consequence, Eastern Europe automatically becomes a geopolitical buffer dividing the EU from Russia, but also Russia from Europe. This in fact completely reduces cultural and political influences of Europe on Russian citizens and political culture and leaves them dominated by Asian and traditional influences.
Asiatization of Russia can lead to a closed, non-democratic cultural and political system. As a matter of fact, these processes have already begun. We cannot rule out that a similar situation will lead to a deep political and economic crisis in Russia itself.
At the same time the issue relating to development of foreign and intrapolitical strategy of Russia remains antagonistic and contradictory. On the one hand, political elites tend to extend geopolitical influence of Russia; on the other they try their best to prevent pervasion of alternative influences, especially Western liberalism. The only mechanism how to stop the influences is to create a closed authoritarian model of administration.
However, as Russian analysts and especially economists themselves state, continuing closing of the geopolitical system of Russia and using energy resources as a political weapon will lead it to inner and international emasculation and loss of geopolitical presence in the world. This opinion of the economist V. P. Gutnik rather contradicted the above mentioned conclusions of political analysts A. I. Suzdaltsev and S. V. Kartunov. According to the author, a way out of the deadlock Russia has presently found in is democratization of the system and resignation from energy imperialism: „Diversification of Russian economy with emphasis on innovative production, intensification and improvement of relations with European states and establishment of democratic system with strong civil society in Russia are processes which are mutually related… The scenario of autarchy and resignation from wide international cooperation will hardly be realized. If a similar attempt is put into practice, it will most likely fall through quickly, but with possible dramatic consequences” (p. 22 – 23).
Although Gutnik is convinced that the only political and economic heading of Russia is carrying on liberalization and democratization, in fact the Russian establishment takes steps leading to intensification of authoritarian political system.
Already at present we can say that Russia becomes a closed system in relation to foreign influences and accepts only political and international relations that suit the political elite. In the nearest future there shall be processes in Russia developing to full extent and leading to elimination of democracy.
The processes of intensification of authoritarian system and limitation of space for civil society are manifested to a considerable extent.
Although as for economic relations with the states of former USSR, Russian political elite has switched to market constructs, it has not resigned from the intention to revive the empire, even if in a different form. They use market constructs, especially in energy sphere, to exert pressure on regimes of individual states.
Russia is gradually transforming to a political autarchy, which protects itself from foreign political and cultural influences from the West. That refers to „democratization” above all. Except that, the process of „democratization” is perceived by political elites as an enemy process threatening political and cultural sovereignty of Russia.
Russia is trying to stop the processes of democratization in the former soviet republics, because local authoritarian regimes guarantee that Russia will keep them in their sphere of geopolitical influence.
Authoritarian regime and intensive export of energy raw materials will enable to preserve political and economic stability of Russia for some time, but it will not be efficient in the long-term perspective. It will lead to serious changes in the society and it can even affect the administrative and territorial integration of the Russian Federation.
Geopolitical configuration of the world will be changing, which will cause a number of conflicts and new risks for the world stability.
A process of resignation on attempts of democratization and liberalization of political systems will occur in some states.
Russia will further carry on with the process of dismantling democratic institutions and extending state control aimed at accomplishing short-term goals, including attempts to revive the „Russian Empire”, not taking into consideration that authoritarian tendencies will lead Russia back to the Soviet times and to political-economical stagnation.
Centrifugal tendencies in post-soviet states will occur in the near perspective, and these will integrate into various regional alliances.
The authoritarian regime of Alexander Lukashenko will carry on in Belarus for a few years, and it will have to face political and economic pressure of Russia. Therefore political annexation of Belarus by Russia in form of „economic integration” is an actual threat.
(1) Because the book is a work of several authors, conclusions of various texts often contradict each other. It applies especially to home and foreign policy of Russia. However, it does not affect the over-all concept of the book.
(2) The „North Stream” project includes construction of a natural gas pipeline, which will lead from Russian coast in the bottom of the Baltic Sea in international waters to Europe via Germany. Its capacity will reach 20 billion m3 / year.