The New Ideological Struggle: What Russia Offers the World

The West lives in an ‘imaginary world’. Russia suggests rules for the real one

Mon, Apr 25, 2016
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Sergei Karaganov, founder of the Russian Council for Foreign and Defence Policy, an influential think tank

The author is the Dean of the Department of World Economy and Global Policy of the Moscow Higher School of Economics, and one of Russia's most influential pundits.


After the collapse of the USSR, for a decade it seemed the world was free from the struggle over ideology. Most analysts agreed that the world was moving toward a single value system based on Western liberal democracy and capitalism. Europe and America beckoned, with their freedom and winning political system.

The 2000s brought a new reality.

In its euphoria, the West had begun to impose its political positions and values by force, (Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya) and lost. Its support for the Arab Spring destabilized the Middle East even more, making democracy seem less attractive. 

After the financial crisis of 2008-2009, the Washington Consensus economic model ceded to the Chinese: a majority of rising countries decided not to follow Washington’s recipes. 

At the same time Europe, and to a lesser degree the US, deserted the values they had offered to the world, at least the Christian ones, imposing multiculturalism, excessive tolerance, a new approach to sexual and family relations values that are unacceptable to the majority of peoples. 

The international relations approach, proposed by sincere Europeans and a calculating US, denounced forceful solutions and spheres of influence based exclusively on international law. It started when Germany, and later the EU, illegally recognized Bosnia and Croatia’s secession from Yugoslavia, leading to civil war and the atrocious bombing of the country in 1999, and eventually to aggression against Iraq and Libya. 

Another very important value of modern Western Europe – nonviolence and pacifism – is becoming inappropriate in the new, unpredictable world. Europeans, who suffered from two world wars, tried to impose these values upon the world. Predictably, things went the other way and became even worse: the massive arrival of representatives of other cultures (which started decades ago) forced Europe to adapt tougher, more right-wing policies, partially abandoning democratic freedoms in favor of order and security. This process is extremely painful and provokes ideological reactions. 

Russia’s defiant alternative has become even brighter against the Western backdrop. The threat of a Russian challenge to Europe’s elite can partly be explained by the fact that in its search for ways to restore itself, Russia has been offering the world more attractive and viable memes and values. 

In international relations, this kind of state sovereignty, cultural identity and pluralism contradicts the Western meme of universality as the dominant ideology. 

Russia defends concepts such as honor, national dignity and courage. For many Europeans, these values seem old-fashioned, inspired by the wars Europeans unleashed and lost. Russia managed somehow to win these wars at a monstrous cost, and it is also ready to defend its sovereignty and the values that Europe also needs, by force. In "Putin’s world" it is unthinkable that men would not defend their values and their women, as happened in Cologne during an outrage by migrants. Europeans are afraid of this new tough world that today’s Russia personifies.

Russia’s second ideological message to the world is that consumption is not the be all and end all. Individual and national dignity and the serve of higher aims are more important, as is inner growth. Russia supports all religions and religious aspirations, and is ready to defend Christians. 

The third message is Russia’s readiness to follow traditional principles of foreign policy, including defending national interests by force, in particular if morally justified.  

This set of messages and values provides Russia with considerable "soft power", despite its relative non-wealth and "lack" of freedom.

The struggle is urgent. The West thought it had won, but now it is losing, and Russia has taken on the burden of a non-Western policy that appeals to the majority of countries, including many in the west.  But it does not seem to be planning to export its ideology, as part of the West does, to avenge defeat. 

The alternative comes from the past, from the "modern" Westphalian system, but it is addressed to the majority. European and Western "postmodernism", which seems more humane and progressive, is losing, probably due to its absolutism, or because the majority of humans are not ready for it. 

After Russia’s forced reaction against Western expansion in the Ukraine, German Chancellor Merkel accused its leader of living in an imaginary world. Now it’s the German Chancellor’s turn. It would be better if everyone could live in the world of postmodern’s failed humane, nonviolent, tolerant reality - with eyes wide open.

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