Let Us Move Eastwards — Steps into Asia Are Not in the Least a Move Away from Europe

Text of report by the website of heavyweight Russian newspaper Nezavisimaya Gazeta on 24 April

Yuriy Solomonov interview with Sergey Karaganov,the head of the faculty of world economy and international affairs at the Moscow Higher School of Economics, time and place not given: "Let Us Move Eastwards — Steps into Asia Are Not in the Least a Move Away from Europe"]

Sergey Karaganov, the dean of the faculty for world economy and world politics at the Higher School of Economics Scientific Research Establishment, answers questions by Yuriy Solomonov, the associate editor of the NG-Stsenarii supplement.

[Solomonov] Sergey Aleksandrovich, tell us honestly is political science a more exact science for you than futurology?

[Karaganov] My honesty manifests itself elsewhere: I am not a big fan of modern forecasts. Because, in my view, the majority of them are based on methods that I do not find convincing. I only trust forecasts made by outstanding people who, in turn, are supplied with basic information by many competent people.

Moreover, there is an important fact: It has been extremely difficult to produce a good forecast recently. Because the amount of information per unit of time is growing rapidly, which leads to a certain compression of time, and this means — to an acceleration in the development of all the processes. Finally, the world has been united thanks to information technology; it has become, in the words of Marshall McLuhan, a "global village".

All this and much else, is driving many forecasters away from the logic of assumptions and calculations that is usual for them. Thus, many of the old methods do not work now.

In this situation it is probably possible and necessary to trust your own intuition more, which I am doing. We wrote our own forecast-book about five years ago: "Russia and the World. The New Era. Twelve Years Which Might Change Everything", the basic elements of which are so far coming true. Admittedly, with the exception of one extremely important section of it — the economic section.

Because neither individual economists nor groups of experts were able to predict the very crisis that the world is continuing to suffer. Although I personally had the feeling that linear economic growth could not take place for decades, and I demanded the prediction of a crisis from them. They refused. This premonition was confirmed in just one bit of the financial section of our forecast, where a financial crisis was outlined.

[Solomonov] But there were experts who predicted this in the West as well. And not even in outline.

[Karaganov] That is true. But the further development of events right up to the present day is revealing to an ever greater extent the complexity of the processes, which respond poorly to the usual tools of analysis and crisis fighting. As a result, not one of the models used to overcome the crisis can be called effective. The old mechanisms do not work in a qualitatively new environment, which is characterized by the economic, political, financial, media, and other unity of the world. Moreover, the unity is such that the complexity of it is still extremely difficult to comprehend. Because a rapid overlapping of the most unexpected trends, factors, global events, etc is occurring.

[Solomonov] How long will this lack of understanding continue?

[Karaganov] That is hard to say. But it seems to me that the diagnosis is this: The world is experiencing an intellectual vacuum; no-one is yet able to understand the new global challenges of tomorrow. I think that the Americans are closer to some of the solutions. If only because they have invested seriously in studying the development of the modern world over recent decades.

[Solomonov] And us?

[Karaganov] Alas, our ideas about what is happening are based largely on the intellectual capital of the Soviet Union. But this intellectual reserve was also to a significant extent lost in the 1990s. So what is currently happening here, from the point of view of understanding or analysing the processes that are occurring, is the work of the mentality of the Gorbachev perestroika era. Or of its opponents. Which methodologically is, in my opinion, one and the same thing.

But we should not complain. Because researchers are also languishing in Europe and America, captive to their own blueprints, which at one point arose there, were developed, but are now no longer valid. Nevertheless, thanks to the investments I mentioned, current research is still going somewhere.

But it must be said that tactically, the Russian leaders and Russian diplomacy are responding correctly to many events, and phenomena, and challenges. We have more problems with strategy. But if it is planned seriously and on a large scale, then good long-term forecasts cannot be dispensed with. But such predictions cannot emerge, based on blueprints and methods that are 20-30 years old.

But as far as economics are concerned, a certain disengagement from the theories of Soviet origin has already occurred here, and people of a new generation have started to appear whose work can already meet the needs of a changing world. I can say the same about sociology as well.

"Decline of Europe"-2

[Solomonov] And how do you argue your idea of re-directing the main vector of Russia’s co-operation and development from the West to the East?

[Karaganov] I thought and think that Russia, Russian society, should do everything possible to move closer to Europe. I am one of the authors of the Union of Europe blueprint, an alliance between Russia and the EU, the creation of a single human, energy, and economic package of Greater Europe from Dunkirk to Vladivostok, with the same rules, and the free movement of capital, goods and people. This union could become a third supporting structure – along with America and China – of the future world. I am glad that this blueprint is becoming the official Russian position. But the project of our integration with Europe remains unpromising today. Because, first and foremost, Europe, which is experiencing a profound and extremely protracted crisis, is itself not ready for it. Its current state indicates that Europe is not up to withstanding modern international competition. And this is the main factor that indicates that it is hopeless to seek integration with the West. And superimposed on this are also the problems of the European Union, the too rapid expansion of the euro in the absence of common economic regulations, and the large social commitments connected with an aging population. Finally, the Europeans are unwilling and unable to work like the Chinese, the Indonesians, and the Malaysians do.

In any event, Europe will go through a lengthy and difficult process of adapting to the new world model. So it does not yet have time for us.

[Solomonov] I have already forgotten the details of the birth of the European Union. Were there any sceptics at the time who predicted all the current difficulties and stalemates?

[Karaganov] Let us not get bogged down in the 1950s. The current problems date from the 1980s and the 1990s. There were two groups of experts. The first were the German sceptics who warned about the difficulties and complexities of a rapid expansion. And Britain, which, on the contrary, insisted on a speedy expansion of the European Union. In the end, the British stance enjoyed a conditional victory, overlapping with the euphoria from the alleged victory in the Cold War. The end of the Cold War played a cruel joke on Europe. Because the continent was approaching the 1970s-1980s with quite a difficult economic situation, which required deep-seated structural reforms. But at that time, the expansion of the market at the expense of the former Soviet Union and Soviet bloc opened up new opportunities for the sale of goods, and for recruiting a fresh and inexpensive labor force. The idea of structural reforms somehow quickly vanished given these prospects.

As far as I recall, structural reforms were carried out only by Schroeder in Germany, despite the fact that he was a social democrat. Ten years or so ago, he introduced a retirement age of 67, and cut a very large number of benefits and social commitments. Much the same thing was done in Sweden. That is why the economies of these two countries are still demonstrating their effectiveness to this day. The re st tried to avoid the unpopular self-defense measures.

As a result, when the external impetus linked to the extensive expansion of the markets, the fall of the Soviet system, and China’s emergence into leading positions, started to weaken at the end of the 1990s and the beginning of the 2000s, the crisis processes started.

Of course, the appearance of a huge number of inexpensive workers in Europe, including from Russia, the former Soviet republics, and the former Soviet bloc, cannot be ignored. Europe is still, although it does not really admit it, using millions of such migrant workers.

Take Moldova. About two-fifths of its population live abroad. One-fifth in Russia. And the same number in Europe — the Moldovan language can be heard in the South of France and the North of Italy. The same can be said about Ukrainians, especially Western Ukrainians. Most of these "immigrants overrunning the place" work in the service sector, and as blue-collar workers. Whereas the Russians, of whom there are also a very large number, join the ranks of the more elite and better-educated section of the European middle class. They work in white-collar jobs.

However none of this is preventing Europe from experiencing a multi-layered crisis, which has led to it being unable to be a competent partner for Russia today. The latter fact is forcing it to pretend that it is competing with us. This explains the farcical battle for influence over our common neighbors like Ukraine, Moldova and Belarus. Naturally, the people of these republics are not experiencing any help from the European West.

The idea from the 1990s, of creating a common European foreign policy within the EU, has seriously undermined Europe’s position. Nothing from this fine idea has worked: the large countries, in the political sense, (Germany, France, Italy, etc.) were forced to work at the level of the lowest common denominator.

And there are a vast number of such crisis phenomena in Europe today. It will, hopefully, overcome them at some point. But I think it is hardly sensible for Russia to remain in the waiting room until the perfect reborn European Express pulls in for it.

[Solomonov] Say that turning towards the East really does promise us the considerable advantages that you talk about all the time. Do these future advantages not at the same time mean a kind of involuntary departure from the traditional European values, which have already historically entered into our mentality, culture, and worldview?

[Karaganov] The most important thing is that for Russia, the rejection of the European path of development means rejecting the best of itself, its identity. So we should still aspire to "live like Europeans". European values are not something vague. First and foremost, these are traditional values, which have demonstrated their tenacity, their necessity, and their viability. Russia has imbibed them into its history, culture and identity. But there are also other, more post-European values, which have emerged comparatively recently and are no longer standing the test of time.

And Europe itself will have to renounce these first of all.

[Solomonov] For example?

[Karaganov] For example, complete pacifism. Or the strategy of compromise, taken to the absurd. There are things that are ineffective in the current hyper-competitive environment. I am sure that they will also be forced to renounce the ideals of open democracy. Strange as it may sound, this will mean a return to more authoritarian democratic systems, such as there were under de Gaulle, Adenauer, and Churchill. And those were actually the years associated with the rise of Europe.

We wanted to be part of Europe in the 1950s, the 1960s, the 1970s, and we became part of it in the era of the 2000s. When political correctness, multiculturalism, the problems of same-sex love, and much else had become part of the "eternal values".

Which does not detract from the genuine European values that have always attracted Rus sia and have become part of its civilization. So there is no doubt that the further we move away from Europe, the more we will lose.

Therefore, the compromise for me, an obvious Westernizer and Europeanist with my "eastern" idea, is: "Money needs to be made in Asia, but we need to live like Europeans". Previously, the principle was that we needed to make money in Europe as well. I am afraid that this will no longer work today.

Train to China

[Solomonov] What are the arguments in favor of an immediate turn towards the East?

[Karaganov] The most rapidly developing market is now in Asia. They are opening their borders there, there are real opportunities. Both Europe and America have already understood this. A huge lack of understanding about our own chances and the huge opportunities right next door to us still prevail in our country. The reason, in my view, is our backward geopolitical and geo-economic thinking.

The Russian elite are for some reason convinced that a dash towards Asia means moving away from Europe. In actual fact, it means moving closer to Europe. Because it is a movement towards wealth, comfortable living arrangements, progress, success, and great opportunities for the individual and for the country. Is that not the European set of values? Moreover for the whole country, and not only for its European part.

[Solomonov] But in this case will we not be faced with a u-turn not only in our minds and in strategies but also in monetary flows? This will involve huge expenditure.

[Karaganov] According to our calculations, a considerable amount of money is needed. But when, for example, we intend to do a lot of building work in Moscow, then from the point of view of urban development this probably needs to be done. But from the point of view of trends in world development — the gathering of all the resources, human and financial, in Moscow — the idea is harmful. It is my firm conviction that the Russian capital should be in the east of the country, in the Pacific. Moreover, its construction will cost the same amount as people are intending to spend on expanding the old one. But the eastern option is good in as much as energetic, ambitious, well-educated and professional people will be pulled in after the capital. A new development of Siberia and the Far East will begin. These regions have, of course, already been developed. The proof of this is the presence of several populated areas that are powerful in terms of their industrial, scientific and social significance, and which could become the centers for the further development of these regions given federal support.

The most important thing that is required in the first phase is a change in consciousness. A change in people’s heads – both of the conservatives and the liberals. But they are still dwelling on the murky past, the old myths, which still evoke the belief that China is our potential enemy or that the West is our enemy. This is the same hoary myth as the one about America, which is supposedly sleeping and dreaming about how it can destroy or seize Russia as soon as possible.

[Solomonov] But it is probably to someone’s advantage that anti-Americanism has not faded.

[Karaganov] Not so much to their advantage, as that they do not want to seek new advantages. It is all about inertia. The fact that in general, the whole agenda for our current relationship with America, including the positive aspects, is based on the paradigm of past conflict.

Even today’s work on cutting nuclear weapons is clearly belated. We have not been threatening one another for a long time now.

It is just that when Obama became the American president, he threw the card of nuclear disarmament onto the negotiations table in order to draw Russia in to help address the issues concerning Iran and Afghanistan. And we are so familiar with and fond of this project. We appear to have played it, but it essentially no longer solves anything.

[Solomonov] So what then is the futu re agenda for Russian-American relations?

[Karaganov] It includes the possible and joint development of the Arctic, with the involvement of other states. For the time being, our countries cannot accomplish such a task alone. Rather they are pretending that they are competing with one another. The next topic is America’s involvement (alongside China) in the Russian development of Siberia and the Far East.

Returning to China, I would like to say that it was our elderly Soviet rulers who made the image of this great country sinister. And it is still alive from that time. I will say also that I was surprised to read in one of the sections of the notorious Strategy of Russia-2020 the conclusion that China was the main risk factor, rather than an opportunity. I was stunned.

If we are talking seriously about the risks, then would it not be better to monitor not the East and the West more closely, but the South where everything is already seething with real risks and threats? It is there that destabilization is increasing, compounded by the fact that over the last 20 years there has been a redistribution of world GDP in favor of the oil-producing countries. On the one hand, this could not help but strengthen Russia. But on the other hand, it is already obvious what a huge influence the oil-producing countries of the Persian Gulf have acquired. They are starting to dominate the Middle East to an ever greater extent — with all the risks and threats that ensue from this.

In my view, many of the events and processes occurring in the southern regions today, that are of concern to the world community, are due to the increasing influence of these particular states.

But I would not see China as a source of such risks. I do not think that the Russian leadership very much believes the experts whose ideas about the "great neighbor" still hinge on the sad border incidents of the Soviet years of stagnation. China will not threaten Russia. Its main rival-partner is America. We have already concluded a fair number of agreements and protocols with China, which initiate new projects and open up extensive opportunities for joint activities. But at the same time, there is not yet any long-term all-embracing strategy for mutually beneficial cooperation between our two countries. And most importantly — there is no strategy for developing Russia beyond the Urals. Hence also the sense of weakness, and the fear of Asia.

Russia Will Feed Everyone

[Solomonov] Are you not underestimating our interest – both in China and in the other countries of this region?

[Karaganov] I understand your question. Yes, Russia’s interest in Asia, in Euro-Asian issues has become more tangible in recent years. Vladimir Putin spoke again about his vision of these political and economic opportunities recently when he gave his report on the government’s work in the State Duma. I hope that the "eastern strategy" of the president-elect will not be limited to the holding of the APEC summit in Vladivostok. Work will continue.

But I have something more in mind here. Russia is, in my view, (it still is!) anticipating some kind of grand project. And there is still time to take advantage of these expectations.

Slogans about modernization and mantras about the innovative path of development cannot motivate energetic people. They must be drawn in by the truth about the real opportunities of the country’s radical push towards a qualitatively different future. They may be drawn in by the extensive market of opportunities for absolutely everyone. And this market, whatever anyone might think, is in Russian Asia.

We need to use our chance, by investing in the infrastructure of Siberia and the Far East, so that we can later use every means possible to attract the capital and technology of China, Japan, Korea, America, and the countries of South-East Asia to make the eastern regions of the country zones of free trade and protected investments, and the food, raw materials, and energy base for the rising continent. And having started the development of Russian Asia, having gained a powerful impetus for internal development, to really become a power of the XXIst century. This is not in the least a utopia. We just need to abandon the Soviet approaches and our pointless centuries-old fears.

There is no harm in referring to Petr Stolypin here. For him patriotism was not an empty slogan. But it was he who opened up Siberia as a territory of freedom and initiative for millions of Russian peasants. And Petr Arkadyevich was not afraid of his eastern neighbors but of a Russian revolt, a revolution. That is why he was searching for a peaceful use of the people’s huge energy, by settling people throughout Russia. It is just a pity that with its author’s death Stolypin’s project was not fully implemented. But mighty centers developed by Stolypin still remain in Siberia today.

But even now, Russia beyond the Urals could become a land of opportunity for hundreds of thousands of young educated Russians. And I am sure that Siberia may prove to be an alternative to going abroad for many energetic people today. If, of course, such a project is implemented cleverly and consistently.

[Solomonov] In terms of our involvement in such a project, what besides our oil and gas that the world knows about, can we provide for our partners? What interest do they have in it? I understand that the "patriots" will immediately shout, "Well they want to swallow up Russia!" But being serious?

[Karaganov] To be serious, the "patriots" have hit the nail on the head. The Asian markets are actually experiencing food shortages. This is due primarily to the increase in wealth and the increased consumption of meat, for which the production of fodder and grain is needed. Hence the rise in prices for these throughout the world. There is a growing shortage of fresh water in the region, and in farmland. At the same time, the possibilities for increases in grain production by its main exporters – America, Canada, Australia and Ukraine – are being reduced. And so there are huge opportunities for us to increase food production. In the first instance, in southern Siberia, and in the Far East. And yes, oil and gas may serve as a tool for the region’s development. Roads will be built around the oil and gas pipelines, and towns will grow up. Land that is empty will be settled.

[Solomonov] Given that we are not farmers, a last question for Karaganov the political scientist. What will America think about such a rapprochement between Russia and Communist China?

[Karaganov] Firstly, China today is no longer as communist, as many people think. Secondly, it is not an enemy of America. It is another matter that America is a rival on world markets for the ambitious rising China. Beijing does not state this openly. But confrontation no longer exists today between it and Washington but a very deep-seated partnership-rivalry.

All the more reason, given this situation, that we should perceive our geographical proximity to China as a good chance to develop strategic cooperation both with China and with America. For many years now, I have been taking part in what have so far been not very productive conversations about creating a "dialog of the three" — Russia, China and America — to initiate the solution of world problems. Such a comprehensive search for partners and allies is precisely what is called flexible and modern politics.

And as for what to call frightening yourself with mythical enemies, whether Eastern or Western — the answer here, it seems to me, would be easier to find in books on medicine.

Source: Nezavisimaya Gazeta website, Moscow, in Russian 24 Apr 12

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