Russians Bid Farewell to the West (Gazeta,
"Every Russian regime since 1991 has to a greater or lesser extent recognized the importance of having a strategic orientation focused on the West. ... We are witnessing a rejection of the Western-democratic paradigm set back in the 1990s, which somehow survived from over 20 years. ... It is a paradigm of Russian civilizational inferiority, certain that it can only evolve by copying Western standards, gradually becoming a 'normal European country."
Russian cosmonauts Aleksander Skvortsov and Oleg Artemyev, and American astronaut Steve Swanson, prepare to blast off to the International Space Station in a Soyuz rocket, March 25. Like the science fiction film 2010 a Space Odyssey, NASA announced today that it is suspending much of its work with Russia over the crisis in Ukraine, although Space Station cooperation will continue.
Social networks these days are
seeing an unprecedented influx of alarmists foretelling that because of Western
sanctions, seven of the Ten Plagues would soon fall on our heads and will
affect absolutely everyone. Retirees are afraid that "the shortages will be as bad as
they were in the USSR." The creative class is concerned that "we'll
have to use the beaches of
Murmansk." Businessmen and officials both fear "our assets will
be confiscated." For those not yet terrified, warnings of apocalypse abound,
such as "complete international isolation," a "new Iron Curtain,"
and the "disintegration of the country."
Practically speaking, this mass
psychosis looks mysterious. One need only read a collection of quotes from Western
heads of state to understand that the "international community," out
of whose orbit we are supposedly about to slip on our descent into hell, is
doing everything it can not to overreact. The currently approved package of
sanctions is, even to me, an ordinary Russian citizen, somewhat inconvenient.
It's the human thing. However, it is one thing to freeze with great pomp the bank account
of a famed oligarch like Yelena
Mizulina, and quite another to stop buying
But even if the inconceivable happens - and
it’s hard to imagine the West ripping the shirt from its chest and suddenly
demolishing all trade ties with Moscow, no economic apocalypse will occur.
There will be no repetition of the
shortages and decline of the late 1980s. China, Japan, Korea, and India, in
principle, produce the range of goods that we currently obtain from the West, and they are more than ready to buy raw materials. What’s more, the
Russian economy is a far cry from the dull system of planning and distribution that
existed at the sunset of the Soviet Union. Moreover, a certain degree of
isolation from imports that easy oil money has attached us to would rather be
to our advantage.
What then, for example, worries people
like Boris Nemtsov, from whose predictions one imagines an
anti-utopia? I can share one observation to help explain the psychological underpinning
if what's going on.
To my astonishment, one well-known
Kremlin critic, whose column I regularly read, recently changed his approach on
the sensitive topic of officials with foreign assets. Instead of rebuking them
as "thieves," he began to advise them not to quarrel with the West
over Crimea in order to keep their villas and bank accounts. It was obvious
that in this new political situation, the presence of corruption is perceived more
as a positive thing, as it gives the West a chance to put added
"pressure" on the Kremlin. But the officials haven't heeded the advice.
They declared Crimea a part of Russia. In his last column the author was
genuinely perplexed: What's happening in the country, when officials don’t even
care about their villas? What motivates them now?
It seemed to me that our author was
concerned not over the inconvenience that sanctions would bring, but that, incomprehensibly
to him, a new and utterly unknown system is taking hold, in which the old truths
no longer adequately describe reality. The classical Russian liberal worldview
is built almost entirely on a black and white dogma. Slogans like, "the private
is more important than the public," "the market drives the economy,"
"the state is bad," "all officials steal," "Russian
people are lazy and submissive," "Russia is the worst place to
live," and "the West is always right," are kind of a like having
a set of colored glasses one takes on and off depending on the subject.
Only all of a sudden, the looking glass shows
something odd. It turns out that officials are prepared to give up their
beachside villas for something quite intangible. Tens of thousands of people
with tears in their eyes rejoice that they now will live in Russia. Reality is
changing too fast and has come into sharp conflict with the fixed worldview
locked in the liberal's head - hence the subconscious anxiety behind all the
talk of hundred rubles for the dollar and the new gulag.
When one begins to understand the reasons
for the rapid shift in the reality we live in, it becomes clear that for Boris Nemtsov and other pro-West political commentators, causes
of concern can only multiply.
I believe we are witnessing a rejection
of the Western-democratic paradigm set back in the 1990s, and which somehow
survived from more than 20 years.
It is a paradigm of Russian civilizational inferiority, certain that it can only evolve
by copying Western standards, gradually becoming a "normal European
country." Every Russian regime since 1991 has to a greater or lesser
extent recognized the importance of having a strategic orientation focused on
the West - despite many tactical differences. That's why our liberal movement,
even having spent many years in the opposition, consider themselves by nature bearers
of the ultimate truth about the global order. They are the "guru" against
which no other political force can compete intellectually or ideologically.
Rejecting a Western-centered view
of the world (Putin's last speech in the Kremlin was official confirmation)
deprives those who favor the West of this informal but extremely important social
status. Moreover, what's happening now in the former Soviet Union will lead to
new political forces with greater vitality, which will be harder to compete with
than aging Duma deputies. Physical separation from the
West doesn't bode well for them. It means the loss of a trusted ally, who for
two decades has invariably helped with support, funding, and a kind word. Under
certain circumstances, this support could well be converted into real political
Changing the rules of the game usually
hits those who established those rules. Any assertions of Russian civilizational independence and separation from the West will
inevitably weaken our pro-Western liberal movement. What is perhaps most
striking is that some of the movement's leading representatives are focused on
reviving in the public mind Russia’s "secondary" role in world
YuliyaLatynina, for example,
presented in the pages of Novaya Gazeta the following thesis: through the development of
technology alone, the West proves its civilization supremacy (above all, Latynina is inspired by the creation of devices like the iPhone), and attempts by "totalitarian regimes"
(including Russia) to make "cultural values" a core tenet of their
civilization are just pathetic attempts to hide their own wretchedness.
Realizing the futility of responding to these
kinds of arguments, I will nevertheless remark that in the early 1940s, the
most technologically advanced government in the world was Nazi Germany, and the
processing of human material in the death camps was carried out by the latest
Recently, I had a chance to talk with a
retired Russian politician who worked in the Kremlin for more than a decade beginning
in the mid 90s. When it comes to politics and economics, he’s as liberal as
they come. However, when it comes to breaking with the West, he says
unambiguously that there is no other way:
“Both Yeltsin and Putin, at the start of
their terms, were very pro-West. They had high expectations for cooperation
with the U.S. and the E.U. Putin spent hours with every Western guest who came
to Moscow. But after some time passed, both began to understand that all attempts
to explain matters to the West were futile. The West has a list of its own
interests, and like a machine, they work to obtain them by all possible means.
Their actions are extremely harsh. All of our attempts to organize something approaching
cooperation, for example over Ukraine, led to a an opposing action by the
American ambassador in Kiev. Putin is a pure pragmatist. That is why the way we
ended in relation to the West was entirely empirical. Peace has turned out more
complicated than we thought.”