Parts 1 and 2 can be found here and here.
By Bernd Murawski
This four-part article discusses the question of what alternative options Russia would have had to achieve its political-strategic goals. Moscow’s weak starting position at the end of the 1990s must be taken into account, as must the interests of Western countries and the global balance of power. The focus of the following considerations is on Russian-German relations, which have deteriorated massively in the last decade in particular.
In the first part, the importance of economic dependencies was discussed, which exist on both sides and limit the scope of action of political actors. The second part problematized Russian decisions during the post-Maidan period. Since the discussion of values is playing an increasing role in Russian-Western relations, weaknesses in Russian argumentation are addressed in this third part. The fourth and last part questions the Kremlin’s strategic military decisions in the Ukraine conflict.
Defense against western influences
Many representatives of the western left, who have hitherto defended Russian positions, have recently distanced themselves from the Kremlin. A current reason is the invasion of Ukraine and the takeover of several areas of the country into the Russian state federation, which they criticize as contrary to international law. Another reason is probably at least as serious: the emphasis on Russian values and traditions by representatives of the Kremlin is fueling fears that Russia is experiencing a renaissance of conservative ways of thinking. According to the interpretation, this would go hand in hand with a curtailment of individual rights and freedoms and promote a belief in authority.
Russian efforts to isolate themselves from Western influences have been evident for some time. The practice of some NGOs of seizing on protest moods and exploiting them for anti-Russian campaigns led to a law on “foreign agents” in 2012. All organizations that receive financial donations from abroad are affected – since 2020 also private individuals. Regardless of their specific activity, they are suspected of external interference, with the negative experiences of broad sections of the population during the Yeltsin era being associated with the activities of these NGOs. The fueled suspicion soon spread to previously successful cooperation formats in business, science and culture.
Western patterns of consumption, models of behavior and values have spread since the late 1980s, particularly among intellectuals and artists in major Russian cities. They went hand in hand with an admiration for the West and a rejection of previous principles of life. The Chinese, on the other hand, use the concepts, manners and lifestyles of other countries to learn from them and to incorporate elements that they perceive as positive into their own value mosaic. While external influences are enriching for China, in Russia they have created a growing rift between a Western-leaning class with avant-garde airs and a large majority of the population shaped by traditional values.
The Russian leadership is currently attempting to bolster the latter’s self-confidence, which has been shaken by Western influences, by upholding conservative ideals such as a sense of family, religious reverence and patriotism. Western attitudes and patterns of behavior are denounced and are to be suppressed. Various alternative concepts are banned from the public debate and their supporters are stigmatized with the attribute “liberal”, which is perceived as derogatory. It is not recognized that many of these considerations have potential that could make a constructive contribution to social renewal.
As a “young democracy”, Russia has a number of shortcomings that could be gradually eliminated through an open and relentless debate. Mention should be made of the continuing widespread corruption, the arrogance of officials and the lack of legal certainty in many places. The Russian constitution contains the same basic principles as in the West, such as universal suffrage, public freedom of expression, the right to found political associations, the separation of powers, the rule of law, and minority rights. However, there are glaring shortcomings in their implementation. To put this into perspective, it should be pointed out that comparable problems exist in other post-socialist states. And, of course, there are also serious weaknesses in Western countries with longer democratic traditions.
Foundations for a constructive debate on values
The value debate in Russia would point in the right direction if the criticism were focused on neoliberal tendencies. The recourse to conservative content as a supposed alternative is dysfunctional here because it creates a false front position. Rather, the focus should be on the polarity between the individual desire for freedom and societal demands. Depending on the country, both are given different weightings by the prevailing understanding of values. Surprisingly, the Western European states are relatively close to Russia and at the same time distant from the USA. This becomes clear when considering the following pairs of opposites:
Individual versus societal interests
Striving for freedom versus community spirit
Competitive thinking versus solidarity behavior
Market orientation versus state requirements
Profit maximization versus need orientation
Greed versus frugality.
The more heavily a country is subject to neoliberal influences, the more pronounced the first options are. On an imaginary scale, the United States as the “hotbed of neoliberalism” form one extreme, the states of the former Soviet bloc and currently North Korea and Cuba the opposite. China’s position would be between the latter and the middle, where Vietnam would also be located. Singapore and Japan would be only slightly different, despite having western systems of government. Latin American countries such as Brazil and Mexico would be relatively close to the USA, as would India. A little further towards the middle you would find most of the EU countries. Russia would be in the center of the scale along with the Scandinavian region and some areas of Central Europe.
This assignment is not based on the values prescribed by the political leadership, but on the understanding of values prevailing in the population. Understandably, the greater the difference between the two, the greater the dissatisfaction of citizens. A “reversal” of basic moral attitudes “from above” or through external influences usually succeeds only to a limited extent and superficially. Moreover, the adoption of values is slow, and it may take several generations for the majority of the population to fully internalize them. Therefore, within a few years, appeals to Confucian virtues have been able to almost completely suppress the egocentric behavior that has spread with “turbo capitalism” in China.
In Russia, the gap between popular expectations and government policies remains wide, according to the Levada Institute’s annual survey. But while only 16 percent of those questioned see the alternative in the Western system, 49 percent want a return to Soviet conditions. At the same time, only a small and decreasing percentage regrets losing their homeland’s power status, which is generally attributed to Russians in the West. The vast majority are concerned with distributive justice and a higher quality of life.
more on the subject – In the new world order, Russia’s guns face west, its economy faces east