The rebirth of Russia as a global player is a necessary step to restore an overall balance of power in the world.
Russian President Vladimir Putin. Photo: AP
Despite the gloomy forecasts of most commentators, the ceasefire in Syria is generally being observed, and there is the revival of even feeble efforts for the resumption of the political process. However, everything is still standing on very shaky foundations, but the worst predictions have not come true.
If one looks at what is happening in and around Syria, from the point of view of the international system as a whole, something very interesting appears. Twenty-five years of trying to build a new world order have vanished into thin air. Once again, just like in the previous era, the real “bosses” remain Moscow and Washington, with no one else having the power or capacity to make important decisions and to start to implement them.
This is sad news for international organizations, which are supposed to be ruling the world, and in particular for the EU, whose independent role in the Middle East, a neighboring region of great importance to Europe, simply is not visible.
This does not mean that the former Cold War structure of the world system is being restored. However, nonetheless, it clearly confirms that a new effective world order has not yet appeared and the one reason for all of this is the unresolved problem of Russia’s place in the new world order.
Since the end of the Cold War, the entire period has been marked by controversy as to what position Russia should occupy in the international arena. Although Russia is the successor state of the Soviet Union, its status in the global hierarchy cannot be compared with the one of the U.S.S.R.
The latter, even during its declining years, experiencing acute difficulties and retreating, remained one of the two global pillars, a country, without which it was impossible to solve any serious issues. After 1991, Russia found itself in a strange position. It became a sort of heir to a superpower, with almost all of its formal attributes, but a state, forced to work on overcoming its severe systemic decline. At the same time, it was dependent on the mercy of those who had recently been its enemies. And this happened without any recognized or proclaimed defeat in an armed confrontation.
Russia has tried, in various ways, to adjust to this situation, including actually agreeing with the fact that as a country, Russia had no “national interests” that would differ from those that the “civilized world” was aspiring to. Later, this included simulating a global role for Russia via a presence (though without any leverage) in major negotiations and diplomatic formats.
However, from the point of view of the outside world (mainly Western), Russia’s desirable place was well defined – as part of the “Greater Europe.” This concept took shape in the early 2000s, but was implemented into practice much earlier than that. It included Russia’s presence in the European space, the core of which was the European Union (and in fact, NATO as well, even though the Europeans have always emphasized that there was a difference between these two associations).
It was understood that some of the former Communist bloc countries would join these structures, while others would become only affiliated with them, through the voluntary (without membership) adoption of the EU’s rules and regulations. Russia was always considered as a special case. However, it was assumed that Russia would, eventually, take its, albeit significant, place within Europe, but be subject to a common chain of command in this future organization.
In other words – Russia was being offered a place in the European architecture, which by that time had not been a global one. In contrast to the common European home, which Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev was planning to build, and in which the Soviet Union was to act as an equal partner in co-designing a new universe around it, that is, the new European system was thought of as a regional one. In such conditions, Moscow would reject pursuing its global aspirations, and within the Greater Europe, would live while being subordinated to rules, created and developed without Russian participation.
For many reasons, Russia simply did not fit into the role assigned to it by the new world order, which was supposed to appear after 1991. And one cannot say that Russia did not want this as well. Until the mid-2000s, Moscow somehow tried to settle into its proposed slot, trying to limit itself, and trying to expand this slot. However, very soon the entire construction of the 1990s began to slump and deform under the influence of changing external circumstances.
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The events of 2014-2015 finally broke this construction, as far as Russia was concerned, which had existed for almost a quarter of a century. The operation in Crimea was a response to the steady progress of Western structures towards the East, which had not ceased during the entire post-Cold War period. That is, the idea of an EU/NATO-centric Europe was rejected in the strongest way possible – with the use of military force.
The campaign in Syria was the next step. Russia had announced its determination to re-enter the global arena, as a key participant in processes, which do not involve her directly, but which are fundamentally important for the future balance of power.
The consequences of the Russian campaign were not only the strengthening of the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, but also reaching of the ceasefire agreement with the United States on the cessation of hostilities and resumption of the political process – and all this, despite the extremely bad relations in the rest of the spectrum and sharp mutual recriminations.
The rebirth of Moscow as a global player is a necessary step to achieve an overall balance of power. But it is not enough, Russia must quickly do something about its economic policy – the state of Russia’s economy today will not allow the country to sustain a leading position in the world. In addition, the international system needs to expand the number of responsible nations that are able to solve problems, and not only create them.
The opinion of the author may not necessarily reflect the position of Russia Direct or its staff.
The article was first published in Rossiyskaya Gazeta in Russian.