Why Russia Matters?
Recently I attended an interesting lecture by Robert Legvold at MGIMO. Robert Legvold is an American professor from the renowned Columbia University Harriman Institute created in the Cold War era to study and counter the perceived Soviet threat. Legvold is also currently the main historian of Russia in the MGIMO english language curriculum, a frequent visiting lecturer and coauthor with Russian academics. The lecture was as usual authoritative, very precisely structured and addressed the question “Why is Russia important?”
Robert Legvold at MGIMO
The title and the arguments demonstrated the continued America centrism still prevalent in the United States amongst the academic community and the decision makers. To any European, Asian or Middle Eastern scholar the question would at first sight appear to be absurd. Scholars instinctually respond “Russia has nuclear weapons and cannot be ignored”. Yet a true reasoned reply to this challenging question is premised on mutual respect, multiculturalism and the realistic perception of the world as being comprised of multiple centers of power necessitating multilateralism. All values that Russia and the United States hold in common.
The question triggers a recollection of the original direction in the 1990s towards creating the global governance institutions. The beginning of the 1990s was a unique opportunity to incorporate Russia in the global governance institutions. This was one of the aims of perestroika and the hastened democratization implemented from the top in Russia and accepted by the citizens. The Russian foreign policy statements up until the Yugoslavia can be read like love letters to the West, so open and welcoming was the spirit at these idealistic times Russia. As everything that Russians do, Russia embraced democracy passionately and completely. It is sometimes said that the real victors of the Cold War were the Russian people, whom chose democracy as the new post Soviet form of governance. Russians anticipated that in opening the Soviet Union the peoples would become part of one and the same system. Clearly the Western specialists did not have the correct formula for the transition to capitalism. This sudden decrease in living standards ultimately caused great disappointment amongst the Russian citizens, whereas the Russian leadership until today cannot completely comprehend why the anti Soviet thrust of Western policies continues persistently until today in the conduct of foreign policy towards Russia. The culmination of these disappointments have come to a head with the current crisis.
The rectified perception and appropriate question could be “How can Russia further assist the United States” in jointly realizing the shared global and national agendas, for instance, eradicating terrorism, achieving the UN millenium development goals, cleaning the planet and creating regional and global institutions and standards for global governance.
Russia has proven itself to be an essential diplomatic power discussing and corresponding with countries that the United States has had difficulty understanding or establishing a constructive dialogue with. Russia has played an essential role in the anti terrorism struggle. Russia is leading in the multilateral projects with its partners in establishing order in economic, military, social and political affairs, through SCO since 1994, BRICS since 2009, and the Eurasian Union since 2014. These alternative approaches to global governance are complementary to the current order and arise at critical junctures of our current history when the Western states initiate or support initiatives undermining the common order, such as , the bombings of Belgrad, the refusal to negotiate the common European Defense Treaty or enhancing the Russia NATO cooperation, the Kiev precipitated coup change of government.
Despite these evident geopolitical tensions and even threats to Russia in its immediate region, Russia continues its path of open diplomacy with all its global partners with the United States, as well as, the conscious emphasis on building international institutions and in correspondence to international law. It is this type of behavior that legitimizes Russia as a center of global leadership, and it is this behavior that empowers international law. International law is valid if it is adhered to. For the United Nations to have continued significance, international powers must adhere to the rules of this institution. Perhaps this is the main reason why Russia is important. Russia is important because it behaves according to the rules of global governance. The rules of global governance begin with the aim of peace, applying peaceful methods for maintaining and reaching peace, transitioning through the objective of securing the basic human rights, and then finding a way to institutionally balance between the states. In this respect, Russia is entirely predictable.
Russia is also predictable when it responds rationally and peacefully to the threats at its borders. Somehow we must overcome the emotional divisions and to initiate a regular series of negotiation rounds for making the joint defense treaties, to facilitate the framework of economic interaction towards a secure energy access and standard. Ironically, it is at the moment of Russia’s entrance in the WTO in 2014 that relations began to rupture into the contemporary confrontation. Whereas, it is precisely at the gradual removal of tariffs that Russia would begin to integrate more fully including towards the EU. The indication is that national programs of economic renaissance are needed as a prerequisite to the further stages of integration in Russia, in the Ukraine, and even in many of the EU members.
Revising the rules and recommendations for economic growth is a good opportunity to capitalize on the new technologies brought forward enabling a transformation of the market and methods of production. In this respect, Russia is important due to the highly educated labor force, one of the highest ranks according to the innovation survey and its ability to contribute to innovations. It is in the interest of mutual cooperation that economic growth and equity are addressed with the utmost priority.
With respect to Robert Legvold, ultimately a deep sense of wisdom is inherent in the complete formulation of the question “Why does Russia matter?” Legvold continued the question with “Why should the United States invest in its relations with Russia instead of its role in dealing with the global economy crises?” We come full circle to the intellectual challenge of the previous century, how to improve living standards and create mutually ensured safety. Does economic empowerment precede or result from creating international social and political conditions of peace? What is first economics or politics?
The right diplomatic answer to this question appears to be that Russia and the United States together must jointly pursue policies to assuage and prevent global economic crises enabling a stable and peaceful global environment.