Each December leading think-tanks and serious media outlets publish reports predicting short-term political and economic trends' development. RIAC's forecast is going to be published a little bit later. Still, now RIAC has got his hands on two original pieces that lift the veil on Russia's foreign policy 20 years from now. Read the interview with Natalya Nenarokova, Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation, in our first piece.
Each December leading think-tanks and serious media outlets publish reports predicting short-term political and economic trends' development. RIAC's forecast is going to be published a little bit later.
Still, now RIAC has got his hands on two original pieces that lift the veil on Russia's foreign policy 20 years from now. Read the interview with Natalya Nenarokova, Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation, in our first piece.
It’s 7.30 pm Moscow time. I am sitting in the reception area of the Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation on the seventh floor of the famous Stalinist skyscraper where the agency is headquartered. My body tenses up: the middle-aged lady in the prudish, somewhat old-fashioned business suit who is staring so intently at me reminds me of my high-school Chinese teacher. I never really got on with the Chinese language. The Head of the Secretariat, Svetlana Gutina, is responsible for the Minister’s schedule. She sorts through the documents that need signing and takes incoming audio and video messages.
We move from the reception area into a spacious office, where I will be interviewing Natalya Nenarokova. She has just been named 2036’s most successful minister of foreign affairs by the influential Indian magazine the Diplomatist. It was quite a task to even set up this meeting. I’ve got my old buddy, Mikhail Zakharevich, to thank for making it happen. He’s the Minister’s Press Secretary now. But he hadn’t forgot about me — he helped me out and got my name into the Minister’s agenda for the day. Outside of working hours, of course, but that doesn’t matter. Although they do say that Nenarokova never takes a minute off.
Passing through the doorway, I manage to sneak a look around the room. It’s nothing special — an office just like any other. Holographic screens for video meetings. News tickers scrolling across the screens. An interactive map of the world on the back wall. Tall shelves stacked with books, information storage devices and souvenirs (presents from her colleagues living abroad). A dozen or so chairs for larger meetings and a massive T-shaped oak desk with a green lamp and a bronze bust of Sergey Lavrov.
At the same time, there is an unmistakable feminine and homely feel to the office. A sense of style and good taste in everything — the fresh flowers in the vases on the windowsills, the beautifully patterned curtains, the paintings of the “grand style” from the mid-twentieth century hanging on the walls, and the low baroque sofas arranged around the edges of the room.
We sit down on one of these sofas for the interview. I don’t really see the need to describe Ms. Nenarokova’s appearance — her refined, aristocratic face has long been one of Russia’s most recognizable brands. Much like Yuri Gagarin’s face in the 20th century. It is worth mentioning that no hologram can convey the fantastic charm that radiates from this woman. I imagine that even the most hardened officials from the UN Headquarters in Svalbard find it extremely difficult to resist this charm. But Vladimir Kanareykin is no fool himself; I’ve always got a few dicey questions up my sleeve, not matter which politician I am talking to.
And so, we were off.
The First Meeting. Her Excellency
Vladimir Kanareykin: First and foremost, Ms. Nenarokova, congratulations on being named “Minister of the Year.” After all, you are the first Russian Minister of Foreign Affairs to receive the award, if I am not mistaken.
Nataly Nenarokova (smiling): Thank you, Vladimir. I must admit that I was flattered when the Diplomatist’s ranking was published. In recent years, the “Minister of the Year” award has gone almost exclusively to African statespersons, and to have my modest services recognized on the international stage is a victory for the Russian school of diplomacy (pause). And you’ve had a pretty good year too (she gives me another one of her irresistible smiles). You were awarded the Golden Lukyanov (an award for international journalism named in honour of Fyodor Lukyanov — VK) recently for your report on Bangladeshi migrants in Tomsk. I watched the report three times, it is very powerful and something that needed to be shown.
VK (feigning embarrassment):Tomsk is your hometown…
NN: Yes, I graduated from Tomsk State University with a degree in psychology. I then got my Master’s from Torkunovka (Moscow State Institute of International Relations of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation named after Academician Anatoly Torkunov — VK) and my Ph.D. from Fudan University (one of the leading universities in China, based in Shanghai). I guess you could say that it was the Galazhinsky School of psychology (Eduard Galazhinksy, Russia’s foremost psychologist and founder of the modern theory of leadership, was the rector of Tomsk State University from 2013 to 2023 — VK) that helped make me an expert in international relations.
VK: I imagine that Tomsk was a completely different place 25 years ago.
NN: A lot has changed there since the city was included in the 100X2 Programme (the United Nations Global Programme to Resettle 2 Million People from South Asia whose Home Territories have Disappeared due to Rising Water Levels in 100 Cities Around the World — VK). Today, Tomsk is not only the educational capital of Siberia, but it is also the largest agglomeration in the region, having long since overtaken in that category Novosibirsk which is somewhat provincial. The new residents in our city — particularly those from Bangladesh — have helped to breathe new life into the city and the region as a whole. You’ve seen it yourself…
VK: I have. Tomsk has become something more than the capital itself…
NN (suddenly recollecting, with some passion): But even though I am a native of the city and a patriot of my “small homeland,” I must stress that the other Russian cities that are part of the 100X2 Programme — Penza, Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky and Blagoveshchensk — have been exemplary in their conduct. Tragedies such as the “Lyon Uprising” (large-scale riots involving migrants from Central Africa in the French city of Lyon during the autumn of 2034 which claimed the lives of many — VK) simply cannot happen in Russia.
VK (attempting sarcasm): So, as the saying goes, it was a blessing in disguise?
NN (after a short pause): That’s a pretty serious question, Vladimir. I often think to myself: What would the world be like today if the Great Flood had not happened? For example, we recently marked the fifth anniversary of the GBB Project (the “Great Baltic Barrier” is a project designed to create a dam across the Danish straits that will prevent the flooding of St. Petersburg, the Baltic countries, Poland and parts of Germany that was implemented in 2029–2031 — VK). The project has united us all — Russians, Estonians, Poles and Germans… In the face of such a large-scale disaster, all of our old resentments, disagreements, grudges suddenly seemed small and insignificant, unworthy of our inspiration and energy and, at the end of the day, they were just not worth dying for.
VK: But surely the human factor also played a role in the success of the GBB Project?
NN (pensively): Well, people have always played a decisive role in historical events… Talking about the GBB in particular, the project would never have got off the ground if it weren’t for two outstanding individuals. We are talking, of course, about the “old Baltic fox” Vig (Vigautas Usackas — the patriarch of European politics and President of Lithuania since 2022 — VK) and our very own AnEd (Anton Eduardovich Vayno, Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation from 2023 to 2031 — VK). I am proud to include these people among my teachers. And there is no doubt in my mind that they were deserving recipients of the Nobel Peace Prize for their work on the GBB. I could not disagree more strongly with those who later claimed that they didn’t deserve the prize because the project was supposedly not directly related to international security.
VK: Why then did the human factor stop working after 12/25?
NN: What do you mean? It did work during the events of 12/25 (the terrorist attack that took place in San Francisco on December 25, 2033 using tactical missiles with “dirty” nuclear warheads — VK) and after. But not the way we in Europe would have liked. Don’t forget that Donald Trump Jr. won the presidential election in 2032, and a big part of his campaign was the slogan about defending American sovereignty. He has always valued sovereignty above everything else, it is the cornerstone of his worldview. We must also remember what happened to his family (the 45th President of the United States, Donald Trump Sr. narrowly escaped death at the hands of terrorists during a session of the United Nations General Assembly on October 21, 2020. And, as we know, he walked away from politics after this, rebuilt his famous hotels into hospices and went into self-imposed exile in Buddhist temples in Tibet. That was when the decision was made to move the UN Headquarters from New York to Svalbard — VK).
VK: And what does that have to do with 12/25?
NN: It has everything to do with it. At the beginning of the 21st century, our American colleagues developed a kind of conditioned reflex. Just like a snail curls up in its shell when it senses danger, the leaders of the United States tried to shut the country off from the rest of the world every time it fell victim to acts of terrorism. They make unilateral decisions, consolidate security services, flex their military muscle and search for “foreign agents” everywhere… That’s what they did in 2001, 2020 and 2033. After 12/25, the first thing that the American elites did was to further isolate the country from the rest of the world and inflame nationalist and xenophobic sentiment around the nation. And, of course, the U.S. leaders increased national missile defence provisions many times over.
VK: But, as I understand, this year the United States finally agreed to hand control over its missile defence to the United Nations Military Staff Committee.
NN (emotionally): If you only knew what it cost us to get the Americans to do that! I say “us” because the United States did not just work with Russia on the matter, it worked with all of our partners, especially those in Europe. You have no idea about the number of conversations we have had about sovereignty and globalization over the past three years, the amount of energy we have spent trying to bring the United States back to fold in multilateral international structures! Some radical politicians in neighbouring countries have argued that it is impossible to work with Washington as long as the current regime is in place… Can you imagine that — they want to a change of regime in the United States?! The mind boggles…
VK: Indeed. I’ve had some of these foreign officials on my show, In the Cage. I just can’t get my head around their intolerance and animosity towards the United States. They get all riled up and start shouting, right there in the studio. They interrupt each other and row. It is so alien to our political culture, so incomprehensible… But let’s return to Trump for a minute. Is defending one’s sovereignty really a bad thing?
NN (with a faint, motherly smile): Vladimir, are you married?
VK (somewhat bewildered): Who, me? I haven’t found…
NN: When you meet “the one” and get married, you will give her a part of your personal sovereignty. And let her give you a part of hers. That’s what life is built on. And global politics is no different. If you want to hold on to your own personal sovereignty, then you'll spend the rest of your life alone. Isn’t that the case? Believe me, loneliness is not the best option. It is not the best option for people, and it is not the best option for countries. At the beginning of the 2020s, the United States, in the name of defending its sovereignty, destroyed NATO (the United States left NATO in 2023 under the pretext that the organization’s European members had failed to support Washington during the Taiwan Missile Crisis — VK)and even tried to abolish the United Nations. And what did they get out of it?
VK: Well, I think Trump Jr. ended up changing his views…
NN: I don’t think he changed his beliefs, but he definitely changed his position on certain issues. And that is partly due to the fact that he surrounded himself with very capable advisers: the extremely intelligent Matt Rojansky (Matthew Rojansky, current Ambassador of the United States to Russia — VK) and the brilliant Sam Charap (Samuel Charap, the Head of the Congressional Research Service of the United States — VK), to name but a few. These people helped reverse sentiment within the Trump Administration and even win over the president himself.
VK: How do you assess the prospects of the United Nations Military Staff Committee?
NN: In all honesty, I consider reviving the UNMSC my greatest achievement as Minister of Foreign Affairs. Of course, so far we have only been able to implement the first stage of the “Bordachev-Timofeev Programme” (named after Timofey Bordachev, current Chairman of the Council for Foreign and Defence Policy and Ivan Timofeev, President of the Russian International Affairs Council, whose joint report on the phased transfer of national armed forces to the control of the UNMSC was approved by the United Nations Security Council in August 2035 — VK). To jog your memory, there are seven stages in total, and the Programme is scheduled to run until 2080, at which time national governments will only have police forces at their disposal… I will turn 90 years old in 2080, and I hope to be a sprightly and attractive old lady (she starts laughing contagiously).
VK (defiantly): OK, I can see why you were named Minister of the Year. I take my hat off to you! Now tell me, if you can, about your biggest disappointment of the year. Surely you have experienced setbacks as well as victories?
NN: You have no idea! Perhaps the biggest disappointment in my political life was when we were unable to get the United Nations to adopt the Universal Declaration of Cyborg Rights. I don’t want to point fingers, but many of our traditional partners took a strange position on the issue. They talked about the objections of the Catholic Church, that the rights of cyborgs supposedly undermine the traditional nuclear family and destroy “spiritual ties.” Some countries imposed bans on cyber parades and introduced laws against so-called “cyber propaganda.” We’ve even got to the point where Russian charities that support those in favour of cyborg rights in the West have been deemed “undesirable organizations” and their representative offices are being closed! Abramovich’s U.S. office has just been shut down. To me, this is totally unacceptable.
VK: Come on, do cyborgs really mean that much?
NN: You can’t say things like that, Vladimir! You know that the average cyborg is as intelligent as a five-year-old child. That’s today. What about 10 years down the line? Twenty years? By the way, have you seen Nikita Pokhalkov’s latest film, A Stranger Among Friends and A Friend Among Strangers? I highly recommend you watch it. It’s a wonderful drama about the unfortunate fate of a cyborg living in a hostile human environment. It’s true that cyborgs cannot reproduce — they can only be cloned. But that’s not a reason to deny them basic rights!
VK (ironically): Are you suggesting that we give cyborgs the vote?
NN: There you go again… you wouldn’t drag a five-year-old to the voting booth, would you? We’re talking about basic rights here — about the right to software updates, internet access (for at least the ninth generation of cyborgs) and technical maintenance… What’s more, we need to protect cyborgs from domestic abuse and sexual harassment. You can’t imagine the stories I have heard…
VK (snidely):And what does our Ombudsperson, the tireless Bella Amfilova, do?
NN: Bella Amfilova has already included protecting the rights of cyborgs as one of her priority objectives. Suffice is to say that over the past year, all public places in Russia have been equipped with devices for charging cyborgs of all makes, including by foreign manufacturers. But not all countries are as forward-thinking as Russia when it comes to protecting basic rights. And this is a situation that needs changing, the sooner the better.
VK (hastily): You’re talking about protecting cyborg rights, when your very own Ministry is guilty of gross violations of human rights?
NN: Excuse me?
VK: There is not a single man working in your Ministry — even the security officers outside the building are girls wearing uniforms. There are rumours going around Moscow that, if a young man wants to work for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, he has to get sex reassignment surgery. Which isn’t particularly difficult these days. In other words, there is obvious gender discrimination in your Ministry.
NN: What are you talking about! What about my Press Secretary — your friend — Mikhail Zakharevich? What about the Director of the Third Asian Department, Lubomir Goubev? And our representative in UNESCO, Leonor Mitrokhin?
VK (triumphantly): That’s insignificant. Drops in the ocean.
NN (insinuatingly): OK, let’s be serious for a moment… You said you studied Chinese? Then allow me to quote: 人之生也柔弱，其死也坚强。草木之生也柔脆，其死也枯槁。故坚强者死之徒，柔弱者生之徒。是以兵强则灭，木强则折。强大处下，柔弱处上。Could you translate that?
VK (not expecting the sucker punch): Um… is that Confucius? Something about strength and weakness? I did study Chinese, but I can’t remember much of it now…
NN: It’s from Tao Te Ching by Laozi. “Man at his birth is supple and weak; at his death, firm and strong. (So it is with) all things. Trees and plants, in their early growth, are soft and brittle; at their death, dry and withered. Thus it is that firmness and strength are the concomitants of death; softness and weakness, the concomitants of life.”
VK: Say what?
NN: There was a time when the ideal diplomat was thought to be the one who knew how to defend the interests of his or her country firmly and without compromise. Do you remember what they called Andrei Gromyko? “Mr. No.” Being a diplomat was like being a soldier on the frontlines. And that is why diplomacy was for a long time seen as a predominantly “male” profession. Today, the main aim of diplomacy is to define a problem and find a solution to it. No longer is the diplomat a soldier on the frontlines; the diplomat today is more akin to a doctor in a hospital. And this is why diplomacy has become a “female” profession, just like many other areas of state governance. One can’t change the fact that we women are gentle and flexible, whereas you men are dry and brittle. But we still love you (smiles), and we have no intention of replacing you with cyborgs (laughs). Well, not right now anyway (winks flirtatiously)…
VK: So I can apply for a position in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs?
NN (laughing again): You’d have to brush up on your Chinese. Then we can talk (pause). Vladimir, unfortunately, my personal sovereignty is very limited today. My oldest son is coming back from Anadyr this evening. He’s a senior engineer of animal migration specializing in large marine mammals. Or, to put it in layman’s terms, he’s a sea shepherd. After Arkhangelsk biologists restored the genome of the Steller’s sea cow, the population of these animals in the Russian part of the Bering Strait exploded and the decision was made to relocate a number of them to the northern coast of Alaska. That is, as a kind of environmental gift for the American and Canadian people. And, can you believe it? My son, Alexander, led the operation! So we’re having a small family get-together.
VK (with false enthusiasm): Congratulations!
NN (cheerfully): Why are you sulking, Vladimir? Come back and see me in a year’s time. I’m sure we’ll have a lot to talk about (she gets up off the sofa, opens the curtains a crack and peers down at the street). Oh… what a snowstorm! I’ll run over to Smolenskaya Metro Station; there’s no chance I’ll be able to flag down a driverless taxi in this weather, and rush hour on the metro is over. Happy New Year, Vladimir!
To be continued...