Richard Sakwa: The Key Challenge for Russia is to Avoid Inflicting Damage on Itself

Richard Sakwa: The Key Challenge for Russia is to Avoid Inflicting Damage on Itself



Rethinking Russia sat down with University of Kent’s Professor Richard Sakwa to discuss his new book Russia Against The Rest, its relations with the West, its role in a new world order as well as its greatest challenges in 2018.

Originally published on February 15,2018 at Rethinking Russia here


University of Kent’s Professor Richard Sakwa believes that there will be the intensification of an anti-Russian policy in the West in the future. He also writes about it in his new book Russia Against The Rest: The Post-Cold War Crisis of World Order that was released in October 2017.

Rethinking Russia sat down with him to discuss the book, Russia’s role in a new global order as well as its greatest challenge in 2018.


Rethinking Russia: How could you explain the title of your book “Russia Against The Rest”?

Richard Sakwa: The point is to stress the numerous challenges facing the country, and that any hint of false triumphalism or achievement is mistaken; but at the same time, the title is not intended to suggest that Russia is isolated or on its own. The aim is to suggest that ultimately Russia has to find its own way in a competitive world. It is about Russia’s self esteem, uniqueness and its sense of challenge and tension.

RR: Could you be more specific?

R.S.: It means that Russia has to build new alliances and new links with the rest of the world. Some people talk about a new cold war. And indeed, Russia’s relations with Europe are very difficult, while those with the United States are catastrophic. But at the same time, new alliances are being built with the BRICS countries, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, a range of Asia, African, Latin American and other countries, and above all with China.

Russia is far from being isolated. For example, in the Middle East it has, against all the odds, been able to forge good relations with almost all countries, including with countries that are bitter rivals to each other, including Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Israel and Iran. The intervention in Syria since 2015 has so far avoided some of the predicted catastrophes, and has re-inserted Russia as a major player not only in the Middle-East, but in broader global politics. This, of course, has provoked enormous dissatisfaction among the traditional hegemonic powers, who have effectively dominated unilaterally since the end of the Cold War.

RR: You just mentioned a cold war. Some experts talk about a cold peace. How could we describe the current geopolitical situation: a new cold war or a cold peace?

R.S.: What I argue is that after the end of the cold war, in 1989, we effectively entered in the 25 years of the cold peace: from 1989 to 2014, in which none of the fundamental problems of world order and European security were resolved.  In those years, we had two models of world order — the Russian and the Western ones.

The former was presented by Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev and other thinkers like former Foreign Minister Yevgeny Primakov. They argued for the transformation of the world politics.

They were thinking in the post-Marxist terms. They were thinking that there is no longer any need for the ideological confrontation, therefore, there is no need for geopolitical contestation, and thus we can build a cooperative new security order.

After all, 1989 did not just put an end to the Soviet practices of revolutionary socialism, but to the whole epoch opened up by 1789 – the revolutionary transformation of society, which remained as much a challenge to the West as to other countries. 1989 of course was not just an end, but also contained the potential for a new beginning. This is what I call the new World Order 1.

But instead of this, the West responded with what I call the new World Order 2 (the western model). The new World Order 2 is simply the enlargement of the existing system, the enlargement of NATO, the European Union, the whole Atlantic system, accompanied by the Hegelian ideology of Francis Fukuyama’s End of History.  Ultimately Russia said that simple and unmediated enlargement was not good enough.

The Russian establishment wanted to establish a new cooperative security order…

Continue reading this essentially important conversation with Professor Sakwa here…

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