In a speech at Clingendael in The Hague Dmitri Trenin, director of Carnegie Moscow, argued that the West is to blame for the alienation of Russia. As it refused to accept the US conditions for a unilateral world order it had to be punished, says Trenin. The German military expert Hannes Adomeit disagrees. There are internal reasons for the unfortunate turn of events in Russia, he argues.

poetin bij opening worldcup in moskou foto kremlinPutin at opening ceremony of World Cup 2018 in Moscow's Luzhniki stadion on June 14 (picture Kremlin.ru)

by Hannes Adomeit

There are few Russian academic specialists these days who dare swim against the Kremlin-ordained national-patriotic, anti-Western current. Dmitri Trenin, as his Clingendael speech and two articles for the Carnegie Endowment and its Moscow Center (here and here) show, is no exception. This becomes painfully evident in the introduction to his speech. He refers to Francis Fukuyama’s assertion of the ‘end of history’, that is, his idea that ‘we may be witnessing not just the end of the Cold War, or the passing of a particular period of post-war history, but the end of history as such: that is, the end point of mankind's ideological evolution and the universalisation of Western liberal democracy as the final form of human government’.

Trenin thinks that the EU member states have basically ‘left history behind’ but that in the relations between Russia and the West ‘the end of history has not come and will not come in the foreseeable future’.

The stronger party

Who is to blame for this state of affairs? Russia may have its own share of mistakes, he says, but ‘frankly, I blame the West as the stronger party’. And what are the most important factors responsible for the triumph of liberal democracy in EU Europe and its failure in Russia? He mentions two, one that he calls psychological, the other geopolitical. On close scrutiny, it turns out, however, that both are geopolitical. Both reveal what could be called the ‘birth defect’ or ‘original sin’ of post-Soviet Russia, that is, the central focus of the Kremlin’s perceptions and policies on the United States. Russia, he argues, ‘refused to buy the entry-ticket to join the West’, printed on which was ‘acceptance of the United States’ leadership’ (later in the speech, harking back to Soviet stereotypes, he used the term US ‘tutelage’), and it wanted to be treated as a ‘serious co-equal’ to the United States.

That’s where the crux of the matter lies and where, indeed, psychological factors are relevant. The mainstays of the Soviet ancien régime, first and foremost the siloviki  − members of the security services and the military, including from the former KGB (now FSB and SVR); military intelligence GRU; the interior ministry MVD and its special forces OMON; federal drug control; the officers of the plethora of armed formations including the forces of the defence and interior ministries – and the managers and employees of the far-flung military-industrial complex, never reconciled themselves to the dissolution of the Soviet empire. They thought, like Putin, that ‘Russia is just another name for the Soviet Union’ and that the USSR’s collapse was a major ‘geopolitical catastrophe’.

It is not that they wanted or want to restore the communist ideological components of the Soviet Union but certainly to reconstitute Russia as a Great Power (velikaya derzhava), in essence, to restore it as a superpower on a par with the United States. Like in the Soviet era, however, power fatefully was and is being understood in terms of strategic nuclear assets; raw materials, notably oil and gas; the country’s vast geographical extent, covering eleven times zones; and its status as a permanent member of the UN Security Council.

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