In April, Russian think tanks focused on the implications of a new Cold War for Russia and the West. They also discussed the Geneva accords and the non-participation of Russia in PACE.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov (right) and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry before the start of four-sided talks on resolving the domestic political crisis in Ukraine in Geneva. Photo: RIA Novosti
The fact that the world is on the threshold of a new Cold War seems to be on everybody’s minds these days. In April, the number of publications from Russian think tanks with headlines touting a new Cold War simply went through the roof: “Dream of a Cold War”, “Europe: To End the Cold War”, “Cold, Eternal, Ours” (The Council on Foreign and Defense Policy), “This disastrous collision is harmful for both empires” (Moscow Carnegie Center).
All these articles, and many others devoted to analyzing relations between Russia and the West, and more precisely, between Russia and the United States, reflect the passions that have swept world politics lately. At the same time, judging by the comments made by Russian analysts, ahead of us all lies something far darker and more ominous.
“At the end of April 2014, we can say that Russia and the United States entered a period of confrontation,” says Fyodor Lukyanov of The Council on Foreign and Defense Policy (CFDP). “This new Russian-American confrontation will last a long time.”
Lukyanov, one of Russia’s most-quoted analysts, notes that particularly disconcerting is the fact that these trends are now more frightening, in the light of the complexity of the modern world, as compared with the realities that existed in the second half of the 20th century. As a result, confrontation now cannot be clear-cut or unidirectional, and the results of this process cannot be predicted.
Dmitry Konukhov of Russian International Affairs Council (RIAC) writes about the possible dragging out of the confrontation between Russia and the West.
“The events of recent weeks are important not only for their explicit and possible consequences, as by the fact that, taken together, they represent the beginning of a reversal in the relations between Russia and the West," he wrote. "This is the direction, if not leading to a sharp deterioration, then, at least to a ‘cooling’ of relations, and moreover this will prolong for a sufficiently extended period.”
Dmitri Trenin, head of the Carnegie Moscow Center, expresses a somewhat different vision of the prospects of a serious conflict between Russia and the West. He believes that this can still be avoided, otherwise the world will slide into a very complex and large-scale confrontation.
“Russia and the West are drifting towards confrontation, from which both sides will lose," he warns in his article. "Both Russia and the West need Ukraine to remain united. They cannot afford to let this clash of civilizations turn into a self-fulfilling fantasy.”
In general, it seems that Russian analysts have become frozen in their forecasts: The events in eastern Ukraine and expectations of new sanctions against Russia imposed by the U.S. and the EU hinder them from making long-term forecasts. This is because the recent history of events in Ukraine, if it has shown anything, then it is that each new day can bring yet another surprise.
Optimism about the Geneva agreements
The meeting in Geneva became the top news item in mid-April. Most Russian experts spoke about it in the same style. They said the fact the meeting even took place was an absolute success; however, its results will be far from what was desired.
“This is a step forward," said Alexey Arbatov of Moscow Carnegie Center. "Because before the Geneva meeting, all of the high-level exchanges, telephone conversations between the Russian leaders, American leaders, and the leaders of the European Union were just exchanges of views and the fixation of divergent positions.”
However, now he explains that “all the parties will try to pull this multilateral agreement towards their own positions. This is perfectly natural. It always happens this way.”
The fact that the Geneva agreement was a breakthrough, was also mentioned by MGIMO expert Kirill Koktysh.
“The interpretation is that the set of measures, about which Russia had been talking, in fact, as it turned out, were adopted and legitimized by the international community," he said. "It does not mean that magically this crisis was dealt with and resolved. Nevertheless... getting international legitimization – this was a breakthrough.”
Fyodor Lukyanov at CFDP opined, however, that things might not be as straightforward as they appear. Regarding the arguments of his colleagues about the positive results of the meeting, he noted that Geneva did not specify any concrete mechanisms.
“Either we were not informed about the arranged mechanisms, which may have been created, or they simply do not exist," he wrote. "And if that is the case, then the main thing would be the mechanism on how the streets would be cleared. And this presupposes that there exist bodies capable of acting in Ukraine itself. And this, unfortunately, is highly questionable.”
It is also important to note that among the analysts, there are also those who have negatively assessed the results of the meeting as a whole.
“Under these circumstances, hardly anyone should be surprised by the fact that amid all the talk of ‘solidarity with the Ukrainian people’, the positive momentum that was established after the signing of the Geneva Declaration, had quickly come to an end," wrote RIAC President Igor Ivanov. "And we are once again drawn into a fruitless debate about how to, and how not to, interpret individual formulations of this one-page document."
Ambivalence about Russia’s non-participation in PACE
The situation around the participation and non-participation of the Russian delegation in the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) has led to many conflicting opinions. The experts are divided: Some believe that this was “much to do about nothing” and there will be no significant consequences – as PACE is just a formal and ineffective body.
Others emphasize that the “expulsion” of the Russian Federation from PACE in fact means that the country is deprived of another channel to convey its vision of the world to other actors in world politics.
In the first group of analysts, we can include, for example, Maxim Braterskiy of RIAC.
“I believe that given the current conditions, it does not make sense for Russia to maintain full membership," he argues. "I think that we do not need this organization now. In my opinion, PACE is a completely meaningless organization. From the standpoint of practical politics, this organization means nothing – it means something only in terms of the formation of public opinion. And since it is largely formed from mass media representatives, who we are beyond the control, PACE does not play a big role.”
Among the harshest critics of measures, which were undertaken against Russia’s participation in PACE, stands Elena Ponomareva of MGIMO.
“To deprive the Russian delegation of the ability to participate in alternative debates, in order to generate some compromise – is unacceptable," she wrote. "Moreover, it turns out that today this institution has simply discredited itself, and has ceased to be a tool on whose platform people could produce some really important, for the global policy, decisions.”
Meanwhile, RIAC's Andrey Kortunov believes that it is necessary to reflect on what the goal of Russia is in the near future, and only on the basis of this, consider the situation as negative or positive.
“It is a question of how we assess our overall prospects," he argues. "If we believe that Russia is a country that should be integrated into the European space [...] then the Parliamentary Assembly – is not one of the most important organizations, yet nevertheless, it is one institution where such work can be carried out... If it is decided that Russia wants nothing to do with Europe, then participation in PACE ceases to be so important."