There’s a reason why the Kremlin is becoming increasingly suspicious toward educational exchanges and shutting down some prominent programs – it’s all part of the Kremlin’s new international mindset that emphasizes self-sufficiency.
"Russia builds its global image around this core of self-sufficiency with an openness that is selective for pragmatic national interests and partnerships." Photo: RIA Novosti
For a very different take read: "Don't cut Russia off from the Western world"
After successfully ending the military part of its operation in Syria, Russia feels much more comfortable in the world now. It has regained the symbolic status of a global stakeholder, which cannot be easily neglected in tackling key issues on the planet. At the same time, the image of the country still leaves much to be desired, partly due to the active information warfare ongoing in the Western media, as the Kremlin’s spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said this week.
Unlike Poland, which has recently decided to hire British PR consultants in order to improve the credibility of the government in the eyes of foreign investors and experts, Moscow follows the opposite course of action. Being disappointed by previous attempts to burnish its image in the world, Russia seems to be giving up and, instead, is proceeding with the “take us as we are” approach. There is little or no mention of “soft power” any longer, meaning these tools are working mainly by inertia now.
One can hardly call it an isolationist approach, as Moscow does not curb ties with everyone. However, Moscow’s policymakers live in the wonderful state of the mind in which they care less about the way they are perceived and are even less concerned about the value of international ties as such. This may sound strange since the conventional wisdom is that a global power should be hyperactive in this arena. But Russia, which has always dreamt of self-sufficiency over the last 20 years, is now enjoying it in full.
Self-sufficiency, which brings the feeling of self-confidence to the Russian elite (as one may ignore the benchmarks and justify any failures with the intrigues of external opponents), has other positive aspects as well.
It makes the country more selective in its interaction with the external world. Instead of the forced openness of the 1990s, when Russia was flooded with different influences and walked around as a beggar, grasping any opportunity – from humanitarian aid to totalitarian sects, these days the state is very selective. It is open for contacts, but it is cautiously choosing its friends. Moscow has always stressed that it wants equal partnerships – now we are seeing this principle at work.
This selective approach is also convenient when it comes to national security. The basic ideology professed by the Russian elite is to maintain stability. Stability of the country means the stability of the regime. And any attempts, no matter how weak, to undermine such stability (lessons learned by the Russian leadership from the Balkans, the Arab Spring and the set of Color Revolutions in neighboring states) should be prevented at the very beginning.
A small number of international exchange programs and similar cultural activities have been shut down or limited recently for that reason: The Kremlin sincerely believes that these programs simply covered intelligence activities or deliberate brainwashing by the West.
In practical terms it results in the “nationalization of the elites” — the return of foreign assets, stricter control over the lifestyle of state officials, increased domestic travel and the policy of “import replacement.” The economic situation helps – with the current exchange rate and recession it becomes harder for the Russian middle class and even oligarchs to travel, study, have medical treatment and conduct business abroad. There is no need for a new Iron Curtain – money and beliefs work better than restrictions and help to support selectivity.
One may argue that the world is changing quickly, that there is a need for a new international-minded elite, or the country will fall behind dramatically. This is true if one thinks in terms of a technocratic world where the domination of science and new technologies leads to a rivalry over talents rather than resources, as well as the globalization and supremacy of non-state actors (mainly, transnational corporations) over states.
This concept is visible in U.S. ambitions in both the Pacific and the Atlantic. Nonetheless, there also exists a different vision. The risks of global infrastructure, which make states dependent on “gatekeepers,” the circle of which is small and cannot be penetrated, force other countries to develop their autonomous systems and preserve their identity.
This may impede the revolution in the quality of life and the pace of technological progress may decrease, but the value of self-sufficiency and self-reliance looks more attractive and important in this context than the desire to catch up with the rest of the progressive world.
Russia builds its global image around this core of self-sufficiency with an openness that is selective for pragmatic national interests and true partnerships. Hopefully, one day Russia will be able to convey this message to the world in the right way.
The opinion of the author may not necessarily reflect the position of Russia Direct or its staff.