POLITICAL ANALYSTS in many countries, including America, have been discussing a post-American world for years now. The Ukrainian crisis and its impending end allow us to talk about a new kind of geopolitics, since extensive American involvement in this conflict by proxy might mean that the defeat of Kiev will become the defeat of the US/Anglo-Saxons, albeit indirectly – but that is the only possible form of defeat in the era of nuclear confrontation. After the defeat of Napoleon’s France and Hitler’s Germany, this is the last missing link in the chain of forceful showdowns between the West and Russia. This will bring a new normal to global and European politics ushered in by a period of nonconfrontation during which the Western elites will learn to accept the new reality. This will be complicated by their euphoria over “victory in the Cold War” and the illusion of a “unipolar world” that have shaped the current generation of Western politicians.
What could our foreign policy narrative be until the new world order takes shape?
First. The historical West, true to its deeply rooted historical tradition of containment – if not dismemberment – of Russia, in which the US took the baton from Germany and Great Britain after World War II, opted, quite consciously, for the dual expansion of NATO and the European Union as a guarantee against Russia reviving its status as a strong global power. This crisis had been predicted: George Kennan, who laid out the theoretical foundations of the containment policy in his Long Telegram, sent in 1946 from the American Embassy in Moscow, considered the decision on NATO expansion “the most fateful error of American policy in the entire post-Cold War era.”
Second. Historically, the current crisis completes the cycle of containment of Russia that goes back to World War I, which Berlin fought to prevent – by the logic of the Thucydides’ trap – Russia’s impressive economic revival (comparable with the current rise of China) thanks to Pyotr Stolypin’s reforms and all preceding changes: the abolition of serfdom and the Great Reforms of Alexander II. The country’s positions in world trade in grain and oil were firm, its currency was strong, and its economy was growing by about 10%.
London provoked the war with its ambiguous position on its allied obligations to France, which was in a military alliance with Russia. Until the last moment, Berlin remained convinced that if it declared war on Russia, London would remain on the sidelines. Alexander von Benckendorff, the Russian ambassador in London, tried in vain to persuade the British to publicly state its stance. Realizing that Russia could be destroyed only from within, the Germans cooperated with Trotsky and the Bolsheviks. The British joined that endeavor through Lord Milner’s mission in January-February 1917, contributing to the conspiracy by Duma liberals against Nicholas II that took the form of the February Revolution and the tsar’s abdication, which became the point of no return in the destabilization of Russia.1
The liberal members of the Duma paved the way to power for the Bolsheviks. London was determined to prevent a successful offensive of the Russian Army in spring and summer 1917 so that Russia would not acquire geopolitical advantages from the possible defeat of Germany and its allies, primarily in the form of control over the Black Sea Straits. Thus, the Russian Revolution that cut short the country’s evolutionary development was the result of a conspiracy by outside forces that used various segments of Russia’s still immature political class.
Third. The conflict between Russia and the West has a cultural-civilizational dimension that goes back to the schism of 1054, the sack of Constantinople by Crusaders in 1204, and its downfall in 1453. By that time, Christian Orthodoxy had already acquired strategic depth in the form of the Grand Duchy of Muscovy. This is a story of different fates of Christianity in the West, where the Reformation signified a return to the Old Testament, and in the East, primarily in Russia. In the mid-19th century, Fyodor Tyutchev defined the correlation between Russia and the West, fully shared by the Western elites (judging by what is going on today): “By her very existence, Russia denies the West its future.”
This means that the conflict between the West and Russia, throughout its history and irrespective of many moments of convergence even in the 20th century (including the Russian Revolution that was comparable in meaning to the Reformation), was a cultural and civilizational conflict. As far as we can judge by the course of events unfolding in the post-Cold War period, the mode of peaceful coexistence that was tested during the Cold War years is the only positive option. The unipolar illusion of the historical West, on the one hand, and modern Russia’s restoration of the connection of times and historical continuity in relation to the entire pre-revolutionary period, on the other, are responsible for the bitter conflict unfolding today and its existential nature for both sides.
Western society has been in decline for at least 50 years. Oswald Spengler predicted it some 100 years ago in his work The Decline of the West. The 21st and later centuries would demonstrate, among other things, the internal disintegration of nations into a “formless population” and the slow penetration of primitive states into the highly civilized way of life. Culture is in a crisis that started with the destruction of traditional society as a result of the French and subsequent revolutions of the 19th century.
Aristocratic criticism of Western democracy clarifies a lot about America. In his Democracy in America, French political analyst Alexis de Tocqueville wrote that there was no freedom of speech in the country where the majority was raising significant barriers to it. These specifics of American consciousness and political culture took the form of McCarthyism and has sprouted as political correctness, including the imposition of “new values” and the advocacy of political movements like Black Lives Matter.
Fourth. The fact that we are considering these cultural and civilizational factors means we have moved away from Soviet traditions of political science and beyond the very narrow frames of its categories shaped under Western influence despite their outward criticality. They lack philosophical depth and cannot offer an interpretation of contemporary realities as a product of Western and world development of the last 50 years. Under the pressure of ideological dogmatism, Soviet political science had fallen hopelessly behind, while the new Russian political science took shape under the complete influence of the West due to its Western orientation, Western funding, and lack of faith in the country.
It ignored the philosophy of postmodernism (Michel Foucault, Jacques Derrida, Jean Baudrillard, Giorgio Agamben, and others), whose categories offer the most suitable description of the state of Western society. They emerged on the basis of American material as a response of European (mainly French) political thought to the catastrophe of Nazism. Centuries of European culture did not protect the continent from this catastrophe (the basic proof being that the commandant of a Nazi concentration camp spent his leisure time reading Goethe). These concepts (ecstasy, obscene, deconstruction, etc.) are indispensable for analyzing contemporary international relations and dealing with foreign policy tasks.
Baudrillard’s Fatal Strategies (1983), only recently published in Russian, claims that the fatal strategies deeply rooted in the history and destinies of peoples and states nullify the banal strategies and strategic rules of the game imposed on them (a perfect explanation of our victories over Napoleon and Nazi Germany). Baudrillard prophetically wrote of the “reconstruction of the human space of war” that had practical implications in the shadow of nuclear confrontation. The West and NATO had ignored this; they were not ready for a large war in Europe using conventional armaments, hence their response to our special military operation (SMO) in Ukraine. The arms race became a technological mannerism (the term covers, in particular, our strategic and other weapon systems of recent years starting with those described by President Putin on March 1, 2018). They are the best possible definitions of the current geostrategic situation, its dilemmas and imperatives.
In general, this is about moving past the postmodernist/virtual existence of the West and transitioning to the neomodern – i.e., the soil of reality and facts. Russia and its policies are a strong catalyst for a U-turn in world development and, in fact, emancipation of the world from the domination of the US/West in world politics, economics, and finance that has impeded global development.
Fifth. It is critically important to bear in mind that it is liberalism, its tendency toward unification and equalization, and not traditional conservatism that serves as the foundation of totalitarianism, including fascism and Nazism.2 This is confirmed by the US Civil War of 1861-1865 and the crisis of contemporary liberalism that is only too obvious in America. It tends toward an obvious totalitarian dictatorship of the liberal elites that stands in opposition to the majority of voters who rely on common sense and uphold traditional conservative values, including family values, in defiance of the unbridled pressure of the LGBTQ community that relies on the support of official circles. Here it is appropriate to return to the premonitions of Dostoevsky in his The Possessed and the Legend of the Grand Inquisitor, which, very much like the warnings of George Orwell, have universal significance for European civilization: They point to its fundamental faults at the level of world perception and political culture.
America was founded by fanatic Protestants who followed Calvin and his teachings and who discovered that they had no place on the British Isles amid efforts to restore law and order in the form of the so-called Glorious Revolution of 1688-1689 after the havoc of the English Revolution and Restoration. It was, in fact, a coup d’état that put William of Orange on the throne; his troops occupied London. These fanatics declared themselves the God-chosen people (even if that place in Christianity was already occupied), spoke of capital-produced profit and success in business as God’s grace, and deprived all others of the right to Salvation (or even life.) Hence the idea of America’s exceptionality and the possibility of God’s kingdom on Earth in the form of a “City upon a hill.” This contradicts the claims made in the postwar years about the universality of their values and, by the same token, the imperialist policy pursued by the US outside North America since the last years of the 19th century. That contradiction drove America’s postwar foreign policy. In the past, it had been resolved within the policy of isolationism, much better suited to traditional American self-awareness. It was actively promoted by President Andrew Jackson, who believed that America should influence the world by its example only.
Donald Trump shared his conviction. He was determined to recreate the inner foundations of national competitiveness and was convinced that the world was a “world of strong sovereign nations” that competed among themselves. In fact, this is close to our understanding of multipolarity. This means demilitarization of the national security doctrine inherited from the Cold War (experts were already talking about this during Obama’s presidency). Admiral Michael Mullen, the 17th chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, was convinced that his country should start “national construction at home.” Globalization was acknowledged as a mistake since, promoted by the interests of the investment classes, it destroyed the middle class (or, to be more precise, the core of White America). China became the main beneficiary, using American/Western investments, technologies, and even markets for its own “peaceful rise.” According to America’s postwar foreign policy tradition, it became “enemy No. 1” and an “empire of evil” to be contained as a preventive measure within the logic of the Thucydides trap. The COVID-19 pandemic accelerated the deglobalization trend that Russia joined, under the pressure of Western sanctions, with its policy of sovereign self-sufficiency.
Russia remained outside the black-and-white picture of the world. Many in the conservative milieu viewed it as a potential partner within the US-Russia-China triangular diplomacy, the foundations of which were laid by Henry Kissinger when he reconciled relations with Beijing on an anti-Soviet basis. Today, the time has come to reach a partnership with Russia so that China’s competitive advantages do no grow on account of Siberia, the Far East, and the Arctic.
Sixth. Washington’s anti-Russian course that turned into the Ukrainian project and the current exacerbation cannot be understood apart from America’s domestic context. After a short conservative “Trump revolution” (a future that casts its shadow even before it becomes reality?), the liberal elites led by the Democratic Party came to the fore. It was during Barack Obama’s presidency that Washington bet on aggressive-nationalist transformations or even the Nazification of Ukraine as a means of threatening Russia’s identity and history. It intended to undermine the importance of the Great Victory as a moral and spiritual foundation of Russia and to retroactively rehabilitate Nazism as a specific product of Western civilization by equating the USSR and Nazi Germany. That became especially obvious after the Democrats won the 2020 US presidential election.
In the late 1970s, average household incomes started stagnating. In the early 1980s, the American elite opted for deregulation or, to be more precise, recreation under the new conditions of the model of capitalism that had existed before the Great Depression. By 2000, the Glass-Steagall Act that had regulated the financial sector was repealed. Globalization created even more problems. That led in the US, and to a great extent the EU, to the financialization of the economy, the erosion of the middle class, and the stagnation of consumer demand. This resulted in the 2008 global financial crisis that is continuing yet today, having practically exhausted the traditional resources of macroeconomic regulation. We can even say that the ruling cosmopolitan elites have detached themselves from national soil and the interests of the majority of the country’s population. At the political level, the policies of the two main parties have become practically identical. They cannot offer alternatives, while reliance on political spin has undermined trust in the elites who, in turn, acting under the slogan of political correctness, have encroached on the freedom of speech and suppressed alternative opinions through the traditional media they control.
The 2020 election marked a U-turn in US domestic policy. Having learned the lessons of Trump, who appealed to his electorate through social networks, bypassing the traditional media, the liberal elites have turned to overt fraud and falsification (through massive mail-in voting and reliance on marginalized population groups – Blacks and other ethnic minorities). “Cancel culture,” “critical race theory,” and other ideological products that serve the interests of the new regime and its social pillars at the expense of the interests of White America are offered as new values designed to “progressively develop” traditional conservative values.
This was, in fact, a new, ultraliberal American revolution akin to the Bolshevik revolution in its radicalism and methods. Very much as in Russia 100 years ago, in the US, marginal population groups are now leading the “progressive intelligentsia.” In relation to the Trump revolution, this is a counterrevolution and protective process launched by the elites to save liberalism, which has clearly gone too far. It can be achieved only by reformatting the national identity and revising history – i.e., by disrupting the continuity of time and rejecting the continuity of history.
This is a new and probably decisive stage of what American political scientists define as the “cultural revolution” and “non-civil war” that began during Bill Clinton’s presidency (1992-2000). The White, mainly Anglo-Saxon Protestant population will soon lose its majority in the US. That is the most important factor of the current situation, which calls for resolute measures inside the country, including censorship on social networks and legitimization of domestic policy by presenting it as part of a global trend – i.e., an ultra-liberal “world revolution.” Recall that the Bolsheviks initially did not expect to remain in power in one country without a “world revolution.” Inspired by the Ukrainian crisis, Francis Fukuyama offered the idea of “social liberalism” as a means of consolidating the positions of liberalism on a national basis, which brings to mind Nazism albeit in modern trappings and an attempt to rehabilitate Nazism/neo-Nazism in Ukraine and Europe generally.
In the West, identity and history are very pressing issues due to the highly contradictory results of globalization and the neoliberal economic policy. According to independent political scientists, it can be defined as a “counterrevolution” opposed to the postwar “social contract” and its socially oriented economy. The contradictions between the cosmopolitan elites and the majority deeply rooted in their countries and regions speak of the same: These contradictions exacerbate as immigration increases amid the prevailing surplus of labor.
Traditionalism is still important at the level of the elites and their foreign policy philosophy and instincts, which are a vestige of past imperial thinking. It is a fragment of imperial thinking in the form of the firm determination of Britain and France to preserve their status as nuclear powers, the efforts of Germany and Japan to join the UN Security Council as permanent members, and America’s view of itself as a “middle way” in the world architecture as an idea borrowed from Ancient China. As British TV broadcaster and presenter Jeremy Paxman aptly commented, Great Britain spares no effort to remain, albeit on a smaller scale, what it was in the imperial era. American elites probably feel the same, even if they have isolationism as an alternative. In any case, history is important, albeit to different extents in different countries. Gideon Rachman, the leading political observer of The Financial Times, in an attempt to extract certain lessons from Brexit, lumped Great Britain and Russia in the same category of “historical powers” that should be treated correspondingly – [the world must] either integrate them into the international system on worthy terms or be ready to contain or oppose them. In its Russia policy, America has opted for the latter.
Seventh. Under all administrations, Washington’s anti-Russia policy (with varying degrees of illusions and destructive effects for the US and its international status) has reflected the imperatives of this full-blown domestic crisis. The end of the Cold War and the Soviet Union’s disintegration created an illusion of a world without ideological and development alternatives. The West got a second wind and exhausted its resources in 30 years. At the same time, the trend toward multipolarity took hold, symbolized by China’s rise and Russia’s reestablished great power status. This became especially clear in power politics – the most sensitive area for the Western elites’ self-awareness (Crimea, Donbass, and Syria).
Obama bet on two trade and economic blocs in the West and the East – the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership and the Trans-Pacific Partnership – to ensure Western domination in global politics, economics, and finance in the new historical conditions that required the containment of Russia and China. They were thought of as Western pillars (or fortresses) but were rejected by the Trump administration. The chance was lost. Beijing stepped up its activity in the Asia-Pacific Region (APR), achieving, under its auspices and with reliance on ASEAN, the creation of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP). Europe, meanwhile, lost some of its confidence in “American leadership”: In late November 2019, it initialed an Investment Agreement between the EU and China. Western unity on the sanctions imposed on Russia over developments in Ukraine serves as Washington’s revenge, so to speak, for Trump’s geopolitical “miscalculations.”
With President Biden in the White House, Americans are trying to restore their informal global empire. This time, they do not expect that their control over the world will expand all by itself. These expectations were fairly primitive, something even Kissinger had to admit. This time, the Americans expect to get a “new lease on life” through more aggressive containment of China and Russia and reconstruction of their geostrategic pillars in the Euro-Atlantic and Asia-Pacific regions. The stakes in Western politics have risen to an existential level. The prospect of a “two-front war” has become clear to the West. Germany lost it twice – under the Kaiser and under Hitler. Today, the Western elites are united, with Germany and Japan occupied and politically controlled by the US – albeit in a world that in many respects has become multipolar.
Eighth. In the postwar period, the US created an aggressive and, in fact, imperial foreign policy philosophy and tradition with its “grand strategies.” This time, the “Young Turks” of political science (Jake Sullivan, Wess Mitchell, and others from the notorious Marathon Initiative) took the helm to accuse the previous generation of losing the war to Beijing and Moscow (including in Ukraine). They came with their ideas and a “grand strategy” for fixing things. Mitchell designed a strategy of “how to avoid a two-front war,” since America’s resources do not permit the “simultaneity” of two wars (Mitchell’s term). The strategy presupposes that Russia should be firmly opposed in Ukraine to halt its Westward “expansion” (i.e., the strengthening of our positions in the post-Soviet space and relations with the EU, especially with Germany). That is to say, America should first deal with the weaker opponent; it should force Moscow to turn to the East, to start developing Siberia and the Far East, and even allow Russia to supply its weapons to India.
It seems that the Biden administration is implementing this strategy. Mitchell, for his part, insists that he pitched this strategy to the Pentagon during the Trump administration in fall 2020 (he had left the post of assistant secretary of state a year earlier). It is said quite openly that the West should defeat Moscow “strategically” or even militarily in Ukraine in the course of the SMO. This might (or might not) destabilize Russia, make it more “pliant” and ready to consider Western interests.
The main task [of the West] is to keep Russia within the Western system of ideological, educational, and other coordinates. And it must especially prevent the internationalization of the ruble; otherwise, Russia will move away from the West and restore its relations on the basis of true sovereignty and equality. In fact, that task remained unresolved for a whole century and was responsible for the USSR’s deeply rooted dependence on the West and the defective nature of its sovereignty. Hence the historic nature of our confrontation with the West in Ukraine that will decide the fate of Ukraine, Russia, the West (the US and Europe separately), and the world.
Ninth. We know from history that opposition to Western aggression – be it the Northern War waged by Peter the Great or the invasions by Napoleon and Nazi Germany – revealed to the greatest possible extent the difference between our identity and the Western identity. This means that the SMO in Ukraine should be defined as a new Great Patriotic War that requires sacrifices and the mobilization of all resources, even if what we are doing on the territory of another state is a preventive war waged with few casualties. At the same time, in terms of consequences for the world order, we can talk about a third world war being waged by our efforts on a limited territory and in a predominantly hybrid mode, although with the prospect of escalation up to the use of tactical nuclear weapons in Europe. Western analysts have already admitted that we have advantages in the use of force (technological advantages and a readiness to suffer combat losses, and determination and skills in capturing cities and fortified areas), while the West is not ready for a “big war” in Europe; it fears a nuclear escalation that would threaten to split the Western alliance cobbled together through tremendous efforts and sacrifices in recent months for the sake of confronting Russia over the SMO.
Today, the situation can be described as a “trap within a trap” or a “fatal” strategy against a “banal” one. Washington believed that, as in the case of Afghanistan, it would provoke us into invading Ukraine, where we would get bogged down or be forced to retreat without achieving our stated goals. It turned out that the West itself turned out to be provoked (partly by the prospect of freezing half our gold and currency resources) to introduce sanctions “from hell,” which undermined the foundations of its global dominance (the system is losing universality, its key feature present even during the Cold War years, which indicates a new level of confrontation and a threat to the West). It also revealed the scale of our trade, economic, monetary, and financial interdependence primarily in the energy sector, in terms of the supply of mineral fertilizers and foodstuffs (with respect to the latter, it should be said that our SMO removed Ukrainian resources from the market). The anti-Russian sanctions are increasing inflation, the cost of living, and correspondingly, sociopolitical tension in the West, giving us an effective tool for influencing the situation inside these countries by adjusting the scale and timing of our trade and economic responses.
The Western blitzkrieg failed, while our economic blitzkrieg is a real possibility. Our response is, overall, calculated on the long game; the conflict is developing into what American political analysis calls a game of “who will blink first?” Time, which is becoming a decisive factor, and domestic political stability are on our side, to say nothing of the fact that the West, due to its “banal” gambit (very much like Germany in the two world wars), is being drawn into a two-front war: In fact, while the West is bogged down in its conflict with Russia, China is free to use force to resolve the Taiwan problem – the main factor of its containment by the Americans.
The entire postwar foreign policy construct of the US and Europe – including the G7, NATO, the EU, all other military-political alliances, the IMF, the World Bank, the WTO, and other institutions – could very well collapse. This means that the UN is gaining more significance to the West, which in its weakness is having to appeal to international law (we have traded places in this respect). Over time, this will strengthen the UN’s position. The G20 summits are, likewise, the last chance for the existing world order to preserve itself and a tool for its smooth transformation. Chaos is the only alternative. Western elites fear losing control more than anything else. This is especially true of the Americans, who lose their bearings in any situation they do not control (even if their control is illusory). This fully applies to postwar American political and strategic culture.
Tenth. On the whole, there is a sense that the endgame of the geopolitical situation is drawing near, as revealed by the turn of events of recent years (starting with President Obama’s second term) and the emergence of a foundation for a deeper (including historically deeper) assessment of the situation in global politics using proper cognitive tools from the position of Russia’s current national security interests and with the prospect of realistic prognostication and application in foreign policy planning. At the same time, much is being done to explain the aims of the main trends of Russia’s foreign policy concerning America and our relations with the West using clear, reasoned arguments and up-to-date categories. This would be a powerful factor in the success of our public diplomacy and our work in the international media space.
1 Multatuli P. “The Russian Empire and the Western Allies in World War I: From Attempts at Military Isolation to Participation in the February 1917 Coup,” International Affairs, Vol. 68, No. 2 (2022), pp. 198-218.
2 Fenenko A. “Istoki Tretego reykha,” https://russiancouncil.ru/analytics-and-comments/analytics/istoki-tretego-reykha