Russia and the World in the 21st Century

Sergei Lavrov is Russia's Foreign Affairs Minister. This article was written on the basis of his June 20, 2008 speech at the international symposium "Russia in the 21st Century," organized in Moscow by the Russian Council on Foreign and Defense Policy in partnership with the British think tank Policy Network, and the Alfred Herrhausen Society, within the framework of the latter's project "Foresight - Forging Common Futures in a Multi-Polar World."

In modern international relations it is difficult to find a more fundamental issue than the definition of the current stage in global development. This is important for any country in order to correlate a development strategy and a foreign policy with the vision of the world we live in. It seems that a consensus is already being formed on this score, albeit at the level of the expert community both in Russia and abroad. This is largely a consequence of debates, on which Russia insisted. Moreover, this emerging consensus largely reproduces the analysis which Russia offered as a starting position for discussion in Vladimir Putin's speech in Munich in February 2007.

It is already obvious that individual problems of world politics cannot be solved without understanding the "big issues" of global development and without reaching a common vision of them in the international community.

I will try to outline some of these issues, which are directly related to the building of Russia's foreign-policy strategy.


There is already no doubt that the end of the Cold War marked the end of a longer stage in global development, which lasted for 400 to 500 years and when the world was dominated by European civilization. This domination was consistently led by the historical West.

As regards the content of the new stage in humankind's development, there are two basic approaches to it among countries. The first one holds that the world must gradually become a Greater West through the adoption of Western values. It is a kind of "the end of history." The other approach - advocated by Russia - holds that competition is becoming truly global and acquiring a civilizational dimension; that is, the subject of competition now includes values and development models.

The new stage is sometimes defined as "post-American." But, of course, this is not "a world after the United States," the more so without the U.S. It is a world where - due to the growth of other global centers of power and influence - the relative importance of the U.S. role has been decreasing, as it has already happened in recent decades in the global economy and trade. Leadership is another matter, above all a matter of reaching agreement among partners and a matter of ability to be the first - but among equals.

Various terms have been proposed to define the content of the emerging world order, among them multi-polar, polycentric and nonpolar. The latter characteristic is given, in particular, by Richard Haass. It is difficult not to agree with him that power and influence are now becoming diffused. But even the former director of policy planning for the U.S. State Department admits that ensuring the governability of global development in the new conditions requires establishing a core group of leading nations. That is, in any case the matter at hand is the need for collective leadership, which Russia has been consistently advocating. Of course, the diversity of the world requires that such collective leadership be truly representative both geographically and civilizationally.

We do not share the apprehensions that the ongoing reconfiguration in the world will inevitably bring about "chaos and anarchy." It is a natural process of forming a new international architecture - both political and financial-economic - that would meet the new realities.

One such reality is the return of Russia to global politics, the global economy and finance as an active, full-fledged actor. This refers to our place on the world energy and grain markets; to our leadership in the field of nuclear energy and space exploration; to our capabilities in the sphere of land, air and sea transit; and to the role of the ruble as one of the most reliable world currencies.

Unfortunately, the Cold War experience has distorted the consciousness of several generations of people, above all political elites, making them think that any global policy must be ideologized. And now, when Russia is guided in international affairs by understandable, pragmatic interests, void of any ideological motives whatsoever, not everyone is able to adequately take it. Some people say we have some "grievances," "hidden agendas," "neo-imperial aspirations" and all that stuff. This situation will hardly change soon, as the matter at issue is psychological factors - after all, at least two generations of political leaders were brought up in a certain ideological system of coordinates, and sometimes they are simply unable to think in categories beyond those frameworks. Other factors include quite specific, understandably interested motives pertaining to privileges that the existing global financial-economic architecture gives to individual countries.


Russia views itself as part of a European civilization with common Christian roots. The experience of this region offers material that can be used to simulate forthcoming global processes. Thus, even a superficial analysis suggests the conclusion that the overcoming of the Cold War has not solved the problem of ways for social development. Rather, it has only helped to avoid extreme approaches and come closer to its solution on a more realistic basis - especially considering that ideological considerations very often distorted the effect of market forces, as well as the idea of democracy.

The rigid Anglo-Saxon model of socio-economic development has again started to fail, as it did in the 1920s. This time, the failure is due to the isolation of the U.S. financial system from the real sector of economy. On the other hand, there is the socially oriented Western European model, which was a product of European society's development throughout the 20th century, including the tragedies of the two world wars, the Cold War, and the Soviet Union's experience. The Soviet Union played no small role in this process, as it not only served as the "Soviet threat" that consolidated the West, but also motivated Western Europe to "socialize" its economic development.

Therefore, by proclaiming the goal of creating a socially oriented economy, the new Russia appeals to our common European heritage. This is yet more evidence of Russia's compatibility with the rest of Europe.

The end of the Cold War coincided in time with attempts to unify European development according to the Anglo-Saxon model. However, there is an impression that Europe will hardly give up its development model which meets its views of life and which has a more solid financial and economic foundation. Rebalancing is possible and, apparently, inevitable on both sides of the Atlantic. This brings to mind Franklin Delano Roosevelt's New Deal policy, which marked a time of convergence in America's development.

Probably, a synthesis of various models - as a process, rather than a final result - will be a key trend in global development in the foreseeable future. Accordingly, the multiformity of the contemporary world, which reflects its more fundamental characteristic - cultural and civilizational diversity, will remain. One can also assume that in order to make the global "rules of the game" more effective in these conditions, they must be freed from ideology.

A different, unifying approach would lead to interventionism - a strategy that is hardly realistic, since its effectiveness can be achieved only in a transition toward global imperial construction. Movement in that direction would increase tensions in global and regional politics and would exacerbate unsolved global problems - as seen from the current aggravation of the global food crisis.

These factors speak in favor of pluralism on a wide range of social development parameters as a non-alternative and, most importantly, non-confrontational way for the international community's existence at the present stage.

Whatever the circumstances of what is called the valorization of natural resources, this trend is creating conditions for moving toward equalization of development levels in the contemporary world. The task is to create modalities and mechanisms for the effective use of redistributed global financial resources for the purpose of universal development. Thus, sovereign wealth funds already participate in refinancing the U.S. banking system.


International experts, including American ones, write about a "world turned upside down" and criticize the "weak dollar" policy. What is remarkable is the analysis of Henry Kissinger, who writes that "the International Monetary Fund as presently constituted is an anachronism" and who even points to the need of restoring moral aspects in economic and financial activities.

One cannot but agree with Kissinger's statement about the emergence of a gap between the economic and political orders in the world. But we must clarify something in this regard. First, there is no reasonable alternative to a global political architecture relying on the United Nations and the rule of international law. Let us not forget that the UN was created even before the beginning of the Cold War for use in a multipolar international system. In other words, its potential can be fully tapped only now.

Second, the global financial-economic architecture was largely created by the West to suit its own needs. And now that we are watching the generally recognized shift of financial-economic power and influence toward new fast-growing economies, such as China, India, Russia and Brazil, the inadequacy of this system to the new realities becomes obvious. In reality, a financial-economic basis is needed that would conform to the polycentricity of the contemporary world. Otherwise, the governability of global development cannot be restored.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev spoke about this in detail in Berlin and at the St. Petersburg Economic Forum. The reform of international institutions will be among the subjects to be discussed at the upcoming Group of Eight summit in Hokkaido, Japan. So the urgency of the matter evokes no doubt among our G8 partners, either. Russia is ready to participate constructively in this joint work.


I think that as soon as these big issues are duly grasped, it will be easier to solve all the other issues, including the range of problems in relations within the Euro-Atlantic region.

Fyodor Tyutchev [a 19th-century Russian poet] wrote that "by the very fact of its existence Russia negates the future of the West." We can refute Tyutchev only by acting together - building a common future for the whole Euro-Atlantic region and for the whole world, in which security and prosperity will be truly indivisible.

New things scare people. At the same time, they are inevitable. And there is only one rational response to this challenge - accept this reality. When they scare us with the threat of "anarchy" in the contemporary world (which is very Russian-like, but done, as a rule, from the outside), they forget that any system can be self-regulatory. This requires effective, adequate institutions, which should be created.

I would like to make it clear: Russia, as no other country, understands the painfulness of the current changes. No one can get away from them. Moreover, as experience shows, adaptation at the level of foreign policy can only result from serious changes within the states themselves. Therefore Russia has quite realistic expectations regarding when changes should be awaited in the foreign policy philosophy of its international partners.

In contemporary conditions, it is hardly appropriate to speak in terms of "challenges" thrown down by some states to others. This only results in too much focus in foreign-policy strategies on virtual dangers. The interdependence brought about by globalization motivates no one to "throw down challenges" to whomever. And Russia is the last one to need this: we have enough problems of our own, which we are well aware of; at the same time, we understand the interests of our partners. What is dangerous is a lack of cooperation and holding aloof from the problems of one's partner - which makes collective actions to address common tasks impossible.

Each country and each nation have had enough national catastrophes and tragedies in their history. The longer the history, the more positive and negative events it comprises. I fully agree with Vladislav Inozemtsev who maintains that the Soviet Union and the United States, even when they confronted each other, remained remarkably alike. Often our actions, taken in the name of the assertion of opposite ideals, were remarkably similar in the means involved and their practical consequences.

There has always existed an interrelation between Russia and the United States. Alexis de Tocqueville predicted a common future for our countries way back in the 19th century. This interrelation also showed itself in the fact that after 1917 the U.S. gradually and even unwillingly replaced Russia in the European balance. It is another matter that there is currently no longer any need for Europe to have external balancers, be it Russia or the U.S. We understand this very well - and this is why we come out for equal relations in a tripartite format involving Russia, the European Union and the U.S.

In the 20th century, this interrelation was corroborated by convergence events that were not only limited to the New Deal of Franklin D. Roosevelt and allied relations within the anti-Hitler coalition. Thus, the election of John F. Kennedy as U.S. president can be attributed, among other things, to America's reaction to the Soviet Union's rise - not only technological and military-technical, but also spiritual, at the level of an entirely new attitude to the world, which stemmed from Khrushchev's Thaw and the completion of the postwar reconstruction. Kennedy made a bold attempt to overcome the logic of militarization of foreign-policy thinking, of whose danger his predecessor had warned. Unfortunately, later the pendulum of foreign-policy philosophy swung toward politics based on instincts and ideological prejudice. Now everyone is wondering when this pendulum will swing back, which will show what kind of America the world will have to deal with.

Russian-U.S. relations would benefit greatly from the establishment of an atmosphere of mutual trust and mutual respect, which characterized the relationship between the presidents of the two countries over the last eight years but which not always showed itself at the lower levels. Paradoxically, there was more mutual trust and respect between the two states during the Cold War. Perhaps, it was because there was less lecturing then about what a state should be and how it should behave. There was awareness of the need - and the desire - to address issues that were truly significant for our two countries and the whole world.

We understand that America is facing difficult tasks. On the positive side, we see that the understanding is beginning to prevail that these are problems, above all, of America itself, including its ability to accept "a world with a diversity of voices and viewpoints." Intellectual rigidity will only restrain America's inherent ability to adapt to changing realities. History "happens" to all countries and peoples, and this refers to Russia much more than to any other country. But this factor teaches tolerance, without which neither empires nor simply normal equal relations between states can survive.

It is gratifying that in the course of the current U.S. presidential campaign voices are growing louder in favor of preserving and developing the disarmament and arms control process. Such cooperation alone would be enough to ensure stability for our bilateral relations, until there is mutual readiness for their substantial modernization in accordance with the requirements of the times.


The issue of the destiny of the diverse European civilization now presents itself in a new way. At the political level, there is a need for equal interaction among its three independent, yet related, component parts. The confrontational paradigm of intra-European relations of the Cold War era is giving way to a cooperation paradigm. This means tolerance of dissent, and pluralism of views and positions. Democracy is always historical and national by nature.

The proposals put forward by President Medvedev in Berlin are based on a sober analysis of the situation. The European architecture, established back in the Cold War years, prevents overcoming the negative dynamics set by inertia approaches of the past and by contradictions accumulating in European affairs. There remains only one thing to do, and that is to look further than what we have; that is, to try and create something that would unite the entire Euro-Atlantic region at the level of principles, by which we should be guided in our relations. After that, we will be able to move on. But without this clarity it will be difficult to create a critical mass of confidence that is required for building positive, forward-looking relations in our region. The importance of principles follows, for example, from the fact that at the annual OSCE ministerial meetings we have for years been unable to achieve any accord on reiteration by all states-parties of their adherence to the principles of the Helsinki Final Act. What more proof is required to prove the ailment of all Euro-Atlantic politics?

There is a need for a positive process, including convening a pan-European summit, in order to fill the political vacuum emerging in the Euro-Atlantic region, and to make up a positive agenda, which we lack so badly now. Over time, we could determine which elements of European architecture are promising and which are not, what stands in our way, and what we can take with us into the future. Why not insure ourselves, especially when much is still unclear? That would not be a means of pressure on any existing structure or organization. The matter at issue would be the creation of a new atmosphere of confidence in our region, which could help to take a new look at the relevance of the arms control process, as well. Let us develop it on a modern universal basis, rather than along bloc lines. Otherwise, the legacy that we have inherited from the previous epoch will only create a feeling that a war in Europe is still possible.

We all should think and look around - this is the meaning of the pause that we suggest. But this means that all projects should be frozen where they are now, be it Kosovo's unilateral declaration of independence, the implementation of plans to deploy elements of a U.S. global missile defense system in Eastern Europe, or NATO's eastward expansion - because any desire to complete - at any cost and by a specific date - the implementation of what causes strong rejection among partners and what threatens to ruin established relations, will cause a reaction. This vicious circle must be broken.

What is the alternative? A further accumulation of "electricity" in the atmosphere of Euro-Atlantic relations? Do we really need to continue making blunders? Will it be good for all of us if we watch from the outside how, for example, the European Union proves its post-modernity, or NATO, its efficiency in Afghanistan? Likewise, we would not want our partners to remain aloof from the implementation of the project for Russia's modernization.

Finally, we all should step over ourselves and stop the unnecessary talk about "veto power" outside the UN Security Council, about "spheres of influence" and the like. We can very well do without all that, as there are more important things where we undoubtedly have common interests. We must build confidence and develop skills for joint work in truly significant strategic matters. Then many things will look different. Let life decide and put everything in its place. What really depends on us and what demands political decisions is that we must stop sliding into the past, into an absurdity that we all will be ashamed of. And history will not forgive us, either. Is it not in our common interest to have "a coherent Europe," all parts of which are united by "workable relations"?


Everyone has their own problems; everyone has something to do. The U.S. electorate is about to make a choice. The European Union is in the process of adaptation. In EU countries, processes of ethno-religious self-determination are ripening - both among the indigenous population and recent immigrants. "Rich" regions aspire to their independent existence in order not to pay for the development of "poor" regions within one and the same state. This is a serious test for the EU's commitment to the ideas of tolerance and solidarity.

Psychologically, it is easy to understand those who wish to leave everything the way it is, in order to die in the Europe or the America in which they were born. But the rapid changes do not allow such a luxury. They presuppose, among other things, civilizational compatibility, and tolerance not only in word but also in deed. And this will be hard to achieve in conditions when militant secularism acts from positions that differ little from an official religion.

No less importantly, the time has come to address global problems which the world had no time to address during the Cold War. There were other, ideological priorities then. If not now, then when will we fight global poverty, hunger and diseases? The international community has not achieved much progress yet.

We see nothing in our approach that would be contrary to the principles of rationality, intrinsic in Europeans' attitude to the world. Acting differently means piling up problems upon problems and making the future of Europe and the entire Euro-Atlantic region hostage to hasty decisions. That would be a huge waste of time, resulting in a multitude of lost opportunities for joint action. We are not hurrying anyone; we only urge all nations to think together about what is awaiting us. But a breakthrough into our common future requires new, innovative approaches. The future belongs to them.

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